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Title: Buoyant Billions Author: George Bernard Shaw * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0300421h.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 gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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Only in dreams my prime returns
And my dead friends forsake their urns
To play with me the queerest scenes
In which we all are but have-beens.
My billions are no longer buoyant
Nor my polemics so foudroyant;
So lest you disappointed be
Let Clare depict my Me and She.
ACT I. A Study. The World Betterer
ACT II. A Jungle Clearing in Panama. The Adventure
ACT III. A Drawing-room in Belgrave Square. The Discussion
ACT IV. The same. The End
The Author Explains
I commit this to print within a few weeks of completing my 92nd year. At such an age I should apologize for perpetrating another play or presuming to pontificate in any fashion. I can hardly walk through my garden without a tumble or two; and it seems out of all reason to believe that a man who cannot do a simple thing like that can practise the craft of Shakespear. Is it not a serious sign of dotage to talk about oneself, which is precisely what I am now doing? Should it not warn me that my bolt is shot, and my place silent in the chimney corner?
Well, I grant all this; yet I cannot hold my tongue nor my pen. As long as I live I must write. If I stopped writing I should die for want of something to do.
If I am asked why I have written this play I must reply that I do not know. Among the many sects of Peculiar People which England produces so eccentrically and capriciously are the Spiritualists. They believe in personal immortality as far as any mortal can believe in an unimaginable horror. They have a cohort of Slate Writers and Writing Mediums in whose hands a pencil of any sort will, apparently of its own volition, write communications, undreamt-of by the medium, that must, they claim, be supernatural. It is objected to these that they have neither novelty, profundity, literary value nor artistic charm, being well within the capacity of very ordinary mortals, and are therefore dismissed as fraudulent on the ground that it is much more probable that the mediums are pretending and lying than performing miracles.
As trueblue Britons the mediums do not know how to defend themselves. They only argue-bargue. They should simply point out that the same objection may be raised against any famous scripture. For instance, the Peculiars known as Baconians believe, with all the evidence against them, that the plays attributed to Shakespear must have been written by somebody else, being unaccountably beyond his knowledge and capacity. Who that somebody else was is the mystery; for the plays are equally beyond the capacity of Bacon and all the later rival claimants. Our greatest masterpiece of literature is the Jacobean translation of the Bible; and this the Christian Churches declare to be the word of God, supernaturally dictated through Christian mediums and transcribed by them as literally as any letter dictated by a merchant to his typist.
Take my own case. There is nothing in my circumstances or personality to suggest that I differ from any other son of a downstart gentleman driven by lack of unearned income to become an incompetent merchant and harp on his gentility. When I take my pen or sit down to my typewriter, I am as much a medium as Browning's Mr Sludge or Dunglas Home, or as Job or John of Patmos. When I write a play I do not foresee nor intend a page of it from one end to the other: the play writes itself. I may reason out every sentence until I have made it say exactly what it comes to me to say; but whence and how and why it comes to me, or why I persisted, through nine years of unrelieved market failure, in writing instead of in stockbroking or turf bookmaking or peddling, I do not know. You may say it was because I had a talent that way. So I had; but that fact remains inexplicable. What less could Mr Sludge say? or John Hus, who let himself be burnt rather than recant his "I dont know. Instruct me"?
When I was a small boy I saw a professional writing medium, pencil in hand, slash down page after page with astonishing speed without lifting his pencil from the blank paper we fed on to his desk. The fact that he was later transported for forgery did not make his performance and his choice of mediumship as his profession less unaccountable. When I was an elderly man, my mother amused herself with a planchette and a ouija, which under her hands produced what are called spirit writings abundantly. It is true that these screeds might have been called wishful writings (like wishful thinkings) so clearly were they as much her own story-telling inventions as the Waverley novels were Scott's. But why did she choose and practise this senseless activity? Why was I doing essentially the same as a playwright? I do not know. We both got some satisfaction from it or we would not have done it.
This satisfaction, this pleasure, this appetite, is as yet far from being as intense as the sexual orgasm or the ecstasy of a saint, though future cortical evolution may leave them far behind. Yet there are the moments of inexplicable happiness of which Mr J. B. Priestley spoke in a recent broadcast as part of his experience. To me they have come only in dreams not oftener than once every fifteen years or so. I do not know how common they are; for I never heard anyone but Mr Priestley mention them. They have an exalted chronic happiness, as of earth become heaven, proving that such states are possible for us even as we now are.
The happiest moment of my life was when as a child I was told by my mother that we were going to move from our Dublin street to Dalkey Hill in sight of the skies and seas of the two great bays between Howth and Bray, with Dalkey Island in the middle. I had already had a glimpse of them, and of Glencree in the mountains, on Sunday excursions; and they had given me the magic delight Mr Ivor Brown has described as the effect on him of natural scenery. Let who can explain it. Poets only can express it. It is a hard fact, waiting for some scientific genius to make psychology of it.
The professional biologists tell us nothing of all this. It would take them out of the realm of logic into that of magic and miracle, in which they would lose their reputation for omniscience and infallibility. But magic and miracle, as far as they are not flat lies, are not divorced from facts and consequently from science: they are facts: as yet unaccounted for, but none the less facts. As such they raise problems; and genuine scientists must face them at the risk of being classed with Cagliostro instead of with Clerk-Maxwell and Einstein, Galileo and Newton, who, by the way, worked hard at interpreting the Bible, and was ashamed of his invention of the Infinitesimal Calculus until Leibniz made it fashionable.
Now Newton was right in rating the Calculus no higher than a schoolboy's crib, and the interpretation of The Bible as far more important. In this valuation, which seems so queer to us today, he was not in the least lapsing from science into superstition: he was looking for the foundation of literary art in the facts of history. Nothing could be more important or more scientific; and the fact that the result was the most absurd book in the English language (his Chronology) does not invalidate in the least his integrity as a scientific investigator, nor exemplify his extraordinary mental gifts any less than his hypothesis of gravitation, which might have occurred to anyone who had seen an apple fall when he was wondering why moving bodies did not move in straight lines away into space. Newton was no farther off the scientific target in his attribution of infallibility to Archbishop Ussher than most modern biologists and self-styled scientific socialists in their idolatry of Darwin and Marx. The scientist who solves the problem of the prophet Daniel and John of Patmos, and incidentally of Shakespear and myself, will make a longer stride ahead than any solver of physical problems.
My readers keep complaining in private letters and public criticisms that I have not solved all the problems of the universe for them. As I am obviously neither omnipotent, omniscient, nor infallible, being not only not a god nor even the proprietor of The Times (as they all assume), they infuriate me. Instead of reminding them calmly that, like Newton, all I know is but a grain of sand picked up on the verge of the ocean of undiscovered knowledge, I have some difficulty in refraining from some paraphrase of "An evil and idolatrous generation clamors for a miracle." But as Mahomet kept his temper under the same thoughtless pressure, so, I suppose, must I.
This is all I can write by way of preface to a trivial comedy which is the best I can do in my dotage. It is only a prefacette to a comedietta. Forgive it. At least it will not rub into you the miseries and sins of the recent wars, nor even of the next one. History will make little of them; and the sooner we forget them the better. I wonder how many people really prefer bogus war news and police news to smiling comedy with some hope in it! I do not. When they begin I switch off the wireless.
AYOT SAINT LAWRENCE, July 1947
A modern interior. A well furnished study. Morning light. A father discussing with his son. Father an elderly gentleman, evidently prosperous, but a man of business, thoroughly middle class. Son in his earliest twenties, smart, but artistically unconventional.
FATHER. Junius, my boy, you must make up your mind. I had a long talk with your mother about it last night. You have been tied to her apron string quite long enough. You have been on my hands much too long. Your six brothers all chose their professions when they were years younger than you. I have always expected more from you than from them. So has your mother.
FATHER. I suppose because you are our seventh son; and I myself was a seventh son. You are the seventh son of a seventh son. You ought to have second sight.
SON. I have. At first sight there is no hope for our civilization. But one can still make money in it. At second sight the world has a future that will make its people look back on us as a mob of starving savages. But second sight does not yet lead to success in business nor in the professions.
FATHER. That is not so. You have done unusually well at everything you have tried. You were a success at school. I was assured that you had the makings of a born leader of men in you.
SON. Yes. They made me a prefect and gave me a cane to beat the boys they were too lazy to beat themselves. That was what they called teaching me leadership.
FATHER. Well, it gave you some sense of responsibility: what more could they do? At the university you did not do so well; but you could have if you had chosen to work for honors instead of joining rather disreputable clubs and working on your own lines, as you called them. As it was, you did not disgrace yourself. We looked to you to outshine your brothers. But they are all doing well; and you are doing nothing.
SON. I know. But the only profession that appeals to me is one that I cannot afford.
FATHER. How do you know that you cannot afford it? Have I ever stinted you in any way? Do you suppose I expect you to establish yourself in a profession or business in five minutes?
SON. No: you have always been a model father. But the profession I contemplate is not one that a model father could recommend to his son.
FATHER. And what profession is that, pray?
SON. One that is always unsuccessful. Marx's profession. Lenin's profession. Stalin's profession. Ruskin's profession. Plato's profession. Confucius, Gautama, Jesus, Mahomet, Luther, William Morris. The profession of world betterer.
FATHER. My boy, great prophets and poets are all very well; but they are not practical men; and what we need are practical men.
SON. We dont get them. We need men who can harness the tides and the tempests, atom splitting engineers, mathematicians, biologists, psychologists. What do we get? Windbag careerists. Proletarians who can value money in shillings but not in millions, and think their trade unions are the world. As a world betterer I shall spend most of my life hiding from their police. And I may finish on the scaffold.
FATHER. Romantic nonsense, boy. You are in a free country, and can advocate any sort of politics you please as long as you do not break the law.
SON. But I want to break the law.
FATHER. You mean change the law. Well, you can advocate any change you please; and if you can persuade us all to agree with you, you can get elected to Parliament and bring your changes before the House of Commons.
SON. Too slow. Class war is rushing on us with tiger springs. The tiger has sprung in Russia, in Persia, in Mexico, in Turkey, in Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, everywhere if you count national strikes as acts of civil war. We are trying to charm the tiger away by mumbling old spells about liberty, peace, democracy, sanctions, open doors, and closed minds, when it is scientific political reconstruction that is called for. So I propose to become a political reconstructionist. Are you in favor of reconstruction?
FATHER. I do not see any need for it. All the people who are discontented are so because they are poor. I am not poor; and I do not see why I should be discontented.
SON. Well, I am discontented because other people are poor. To me living in a world of poor and unhappy people is like living in hell.
FATHER. You need not speak to them. You need not know them. You do not mix with them. And they are not unhappy.
SON. How am I to get away from them? The streets are full of them. And how do I know that we shall not lose all our money and fall into poverty ourselves? Fancy you and mother ending your days in a workhouse, or trying to live on an old age pension! That happens, you know.
FATHER. In our case it happens the other way. There is no need to mention it outside; but one of my grandfathers, the founder of our present fortune, began as a porter in a hotel. Thanks to his ability and the social system that gave it scope, we are now safely fixed in a social circle where rich men become richer instead of poorer if they are sensible and well conducted. Our system works very satisfactorily. Why reconstruct it?
SON. Many people feel like that. Others feel as I do. If neither of us will budge, and no compromise is possible, what are we to do? Kill oneanother?
FATHER. Nonsense! There are constitutional ways of making all possible political changes.
SON. Voting instead of fighting. No use. The defeated party always fights if it has a dog's chance when the point is worth fighting for and it can find a leader. The defeated dictator always fights unless his successor takes the precaution of murdering him.
FATHER. Not in England. Such things happen only on the Continent. We dont do them here.
SON. We do. We did it in Ireland. We did it in India. It has always been so. We resist changes until the changes break us.
FATHER. Well, what does all this come to? If people wont change what good is there in your being a world betterer, as you call it?
SON. What good is there in going on as we are? Besides, things will not stay as they are. However hard we try to stick in our old grooves, evolution goes on in spite of us. The more we strive to stay as we are, the more we find that we are no longer where we were.
FATHER. Yet we are not always having revolutions.
SON. They occur, though nobody understands them. When the feudal aristocracy collapsed before the plutocratic middle class Henry the Seventh had to fight the battle of Bosworth Field. When the plutocrats got the upper hand of the monarchy Cromwell had to cut off the king's head. The French Revolution tried hard to be Liberal and Parliamentary. No use: the guillotine was overworked until the executioners struck; and Napoleon had to fight all Europe. When the Russians did away with the Tzardom they had to fight not only all the rest of the world but a civil war as well. They first killed all the counter-revolutionists; and then had to kill most of the revolutionists. Revolution is dirty work always. Why should it be?
FATHER. Because it is unconstitutional. Why not do things constitutionally?
SON. Because the object of a revolution is to change the constitution; and to change the constitution is unconstitutional.
FATHER. That is a quibble. It is always possible to vote instead of fighting. All the blood shed in revolutions has been quite unnecessary. All the changes could have been effected without killing anybody. You must listen to reason?
SON. Yes; but reason leads just as clearly to a catholic monarchy as to an American republic, to a Communist Soviet as to Capitalism. What is the use of arguing when the Pope's arguments are as logical as Martin Luther's, and Hilaire Belloc's as H. G. Wells's? Why appeal to the mob when ninetyfive per cent of them do not understand politics, and can do nothing but mischief without leaders? And what sort of leaders do they vote for? For Titus Oates and Lord George Gordon with their Popish plots, for Hitlers who call on them to exterminate Jews, for Mussolinis who rally them to nationalist dreams of glory and empire in which all foreigners are enemies to be subjugated.
FATHER. The people run after wicked leaders only when they cannot find righteous ones. They can always find them in England.
SON. Yes; and when they find them why do they run after them? Only to crucify them. The righteous man takes his life in his hand whenever he utters the truth. Charlemagne, Mahomet, St Dominic: these were righteous men according to their lights; but with Charlemagne it was embrace Christianity instantly or die; with Mahomet the slaying of the infidel was a passport to Heaven; with Dominic and his Dogs of God it was Recant or burn.
FATHER. But these things happened long ago, when people were cruel and uncivilized.
SON. My dear father: within the last thirty years we have had more horrible persecutions and massacres, more diabolical tortures and crucifixions, more slaughter and destruction than Attila and Genghis Khan and all the other scourges of God ever ventured on. I tell you, if people only knew the history of their own times they would die of horror at their own wickedness. Karl Marx changed the mind of the world by simply telling the purseproud nineteenth century its own villainous history. He ruined himself; his infant son died of poverty; and two of his children committed suicide. But he did the trick.
FATHER. The Russian madness will not last. Indeed it has collapsed already. I now invest all my savings in Russian Government Stock. My stockbroker refuses to buy it for me; but my banker assures me that it is the only perfectly safe foreign investment. The Russians pay in their own gold.
SON. And the gold goes to rot in American banks, though whole nations are barely keeping half alive for lack of it.
FATHER. Well, my boy, you are keeping alive pretty comfortably. Why should you saw through the branch you are sitting on?
SON. Because it is cracking; and it seems to me prudent to arrange a soft place to drop to when it snaps.
FATHER. The softest place now is where you are. Listen to me, my boy. You are cleverer than I am. You know more. You know too much. You talk too well. I have thought a good deal over this. I have tried to imagine what old John Shakespear of Stratford-upon-Avon, mayor and alderman and leading citizen of his town, must have felt when he declined into bankruptcy and realized that his good-for-nothing son, who had run away to London after his conviction as a poacher, and being forced to marry a girl he had compromised, was a much greater man than his father had ever been or could hope to be. That is what may happen to me. But there is a difference. Shakespear had a lucrative talent by which he prospered and returned to his native town as a rich man, and bought a property there. You have no such talent. I cannot start you in life with a gift of capital as I started your brothers, because the war taxation has left me barely enough to pay my own way. I can do nothing for you: if you want to better the world you must begin by bettering yourself.
SON. And until I better the world I cannot better myself; for nobody will employ a world betterer as long as there are enough selfseekers for all the paying jobs. Still, some of the world betterers manage to survive. Why not I?
FATHER. They survive because they fit themselves into the world of today. They marry rich women. They take commercial jobs. They spunge on disciples from whom they beg or borrow. What else can they do except starve or commit suicide? A hundred years ago there were kings to spunge on. Nowadays there are republics everywhere; and their governments are irresistible, because they alone can afford to make atomic bombs, and wipe out a city and all its inhabitants in a thousandth of a second.
SON. What does that matter if they can build it again in ten minutes? All the scientists in the world are at work finding out how to dilute and control and cheapen atomic power until it can be used to boil an egg or sharpen a lead pencil as easily as to destroy a city. Already they tell us that the bomb stuff will make itself for nothing.
FATHER. I hope not. For if every man Jack of us can blow the world to pieces there will be an end of everything. Shakespear's angry ape will see to that.
SON. Will he? He hasnt done so yet. I can go into the nearest oil shop and for less than a shilling buy enough chemical salts to blow this house and all its inhabitants to smithereens. A glass retort, a pestle and mortar, and a wash bottle are all I need to do the trick. But I dont do it.
FATHER. The trade unions did it in Manchester and Sheffield.
SON. They soon dropped it. They did not even destroy the slums they lived in: they only blew up a few of their own people for not joining the unions. No: mankind has not the nerve to go through to the end with murder and suicide. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are already rebuilt; and Japan is all the better for the change. When atom splitting makes it easy for us to support ourselves as well by two hours work as now by two years, we shall move mountains and straighten rivers in a hand's turn. Then the problem of what to do in our spare time will make life enormously more interesting. No more doubt as to whether life is worth living. Then the world betterers will come to their own.
FATHER. The sportsmen will, anyhow. War is a sport. It used to be the sport of kings. Now it is the sport of Labor Parties.
SON. What could kings and parties do without armies of proletarians? War is a sport too ruinous and vicious for men ennobled by immense power and its splendid possibilities.
FATHER. Power corrupts: it does not ennoble.
SON. It does if it is big enough. It is petty power that corrupts petty men. Almighty power will change the world. If the old civilizations, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, had discovered it, their civilizations would not have collapsed as they did. There would have been no Dark Ages. The world betterers will get the upper hand.
FATHER. Well, it may be so. But does not that point to your settling down respectably as an atom splitting engineer with the government and the police on your side?
SON. Yes, if only I had any talent for it. But I seem to have no talent for anything but preaching and propaganda. I am a missionary without an endowed established Church.
FATHER. Then how are you to live? You must do something to support yourself when I am gone.
SON. I have thought of insuring your life.
FATHER. How are you to pay the premium?
SON. Borrow it from mother, I suppose.
FATHER. Well, there is some sense in that. But it would not last your lifetime: it would only give you a start. At what?
SON. I could speak in the parks until I attracted a congregation of my own. Then I could start a proprietary chapel and live on the collections.
FATHER. And this is what I am to tell your mother!
SON. If I were you I wouldnt.
FATHER. Oh, you are incorrigible. I tell you again you are too clever: you know too much: I can do nothing with you. I wonder how many fathers are saying the same to their sons today.
SON. Lots of them. In your time the young were post-Marxists and their fathers pre-Marxists. Today we are all post-Atomists.
FATHER. Damn the atomic bomb!
SON. Bless it say I. It will make world bettering possible. It will begin by ridding the world of the anopheles mosquito, the tsetse fly, the white ant, and the locust. I want to go round the world to investigate that, especially through the Panama Canal. Will you pay my fare?
FATHER. Yes, anything to keep you from tomfooling in the parks. And it will keep your mother quiet for a while.
SON. Better say nothing until I am gone. She would never let me go: her seventh son is her pet. It is a tyranny from which I must escape.
FATHER. And leave me to weather the storm! Well, goodbye.
SON. Goodbye. You are a damned good father; and I shall not forget it.
They kiss; and the son goes.
The shore of a broad water studded with half-submerged trees in a tropical landscape, covered with bush except for a clearance by the waterside, where there is a wooden house on posts, with a ladder from the stoep or verandah to the ground. The roof is of corrugated iron, painted green. The Son, dressed in flannel slacks, a tennis shirt, and a panama hat, is looking about him like a stranger. A young woman, dressed for work in pyjama slacks and a pullover, comes out of the house and, from the top of the steps, proceeds to make the stranger unwelcome.
SHE. Now then. This clearance is private property. Whats your business?
HE. No business, dear lady. Treat me as a passing tramp.
SHE. Well, pass double quick. This isnt a doss house.
HE. No; but in this lonely place the arrival of any stranger must be a godsend. Besides, I am hungry and thirsty.
SHE. Most tramps are. Get out.
HE. No: positively no, until I have had refreshments.
SHE. I have a dog here.
HE. You have not. It would have barked. And dogs love me.
SHE. I have a gun here.
HE. So have I. Both useless, except to commit suicide. Have you a husband?
SHE. What is that to you?
HE. If you have, he is only a man, lady. I also am a man. But you do not look married. Have you any milk in the house? Or a hunk of bread and an onion?
SHE. Not for you.
HE. Why not? Have you any religion?
SHE. No. Get out.
HE. Ah, that complicates matters. I thought you were a hospitable friendly savage. I see you are a commercial minded British snob. Must I insult you by offering to pay for my entertainment? Or impress you by introducing myself as a graduate of Oxford University?
SHE. I know that stunt, my lad. The wandering scholar turns up here about twice a week.
HE. "My lad" eh? That is an endearment. We are getting on. What about the milk?
SHE. You can get a meal where the lake steamers stop, two miles farther on.
HE. Two miles! In this heat! I should die.
SHE [patiently] Will you pass on and not come troubling where you are not wanted. [She goes into the house and slams the door].
An elderly native arrives with a jar of milk and a basket of bread and fruit. He deposits them on the stoep.
THE NATIVE [calling to the lady inside] Ahaiya! Missy's rations. Pink person loafing round.
She opens the door and hands a coin to the native; then slams the door before, after an angry glance at the intruder, leaving the meal on the stoep.
HE [to the native] You bring me samee. Half dollar. [He exhibits the coin].
THE NATIVE. Too much. Twentyfive cent enough.
HE [producing a 25c. piece and giving it to him] The honest man gets paid in advance and has his part in the glory of God.
THE NATIVE. You wait here. No walk about.
HE. Why not?
THE NATIVE. Not good walk about. Gater and snake.
HE. What is gater?
THE NATIVE. Alligator, sir. Much gater, much rattler.
HE. All right. I wait here.
THE NATIVE. Yes, sir. And you no speak holy woman. Speak to her forbidden. She speak with great spirits only. Very strong magics. Put spell on you. Fetch gaters and rattlers with magic tunes on her pipe. Very unlucky speak to her. Very lucky bring her gifts.
HE. Has she husband?
THE NATIVE. No no no no. She holy woman. Live alone. You no speak to her, sir. You wait here. Back quick with chop chop. [He goes].
SHE [opening the door again] Not gone yet?
HE. The native says you are a holy woman. You are treating me in a very unholy manner. May I suggest that you allow me to consume your meal? You can consume mine yourself after he brings it? I am hungrier than you.
SHE. You are not starving. A fast will do you no harm. You can wait ten minutes more at all events. If you persist in bothering me I will call the gaters and the rattlers.
HE. You have been listening. That is another advance.
SHE. Take care. I can call them.
SHE. In the days of my vanity, when I tried to be happy with men like you, I learnt how to play the soprano saxophone. I have the instrument here. Twenty notes from it will surround you with hissing rattling things, with gaping jaws and slashing tails. I am far better protected against idle gentlemen here than I should be in Piccadilly.
HE. Yes, holy lady; but what about your conscience? A hungry man asks you for food. Dare you throw him to the gaters and rattlers? How will that appear in the great day of reckoning?
SHE. Neither you nor I will matter much when that day comes, if it ever does. But you can eat my lunch to shut your mouth.
HE. Oh, thanks!
SHE. You need not look round for a tumbler and a knife and fork. Drink from the calabash: eat from your fingers.
HE. The simple life, eh? [He attacks the meal].
SHE. No. In the simple life you ring for the servants. Everything is done for you; and you learn nothing.
HE. And here you wait until that kindly native comes and feeds you, like Elijah's ravens. What do you learn from that?
SHE. You learn what nice people natives are. But you begin by trying to feed yourself and build your own shack. I have been through all that, and learnt what a helpless creature a civilized woman is.
HE. Quite. That is the advantage of being civilized: everything is done for you by somebody else; and you havnt a notion of how or why, unless you read Karl Marx.
SHE. I read Karl Marx when I was fifteen. That is why I am here instead of in London looking for a rich husband.
HE. We are getting on like old friends. Evidently I please you.
SHE. Why do you want to please me now that you have your meal?
HE. I dont know. Why do we go on talking to oneanother?
SHE. I dont know. We are dangerous to oneanother. Finish your food; and pass on.
HE. But you have chosen to live dangerously. So have I. It may break our hearts if I pass on.
SHE. Young man: I spent years waiting for somebody to break my heart before I discovered that I havnt got one. I broke several men's hearts in the process. I came here to get rid of that sort of thing. I can stand almost anything human except an English gentleman.
HE. And I can stand anything except an English lady. That game is up. Dancing and gambling, drinking cocktails, tempting women and running away when they meet you half-way and say "Thats quite all right, sonny: dont apologize." Hunting and shooting is all right; but you need to be a genuine countrified savage for it; and I am a town bird. My father is a chain shopkeeper, not a country squire.
SHE. Same here: my father is a famous lucky financier. Born a proletarian. Neither of us the real thing.
HE. Plenty of money and no roots. No traditions.
SHE. Nonsense. We are rooted in the slums and suburbs, and full of their snobbery. But failures as ladies and gentlemen.
HE. Nothing left but to live on father's money, eh?
SHE. Yes: parasites: that is not living. Yet we have our living selves for all that. And in this wild life you can taste yourself.
HE. Not always a pleasant taste, is it?
SHE. Every animal can bear its own odor.
HE. That remark has completely destroyed my appetite. The coarse realism with which women face physical facts shocks the delicacy of my sex.
SHE. Yes: men are dreamers and drones. So if you can eat no more, get out.
HE. I should much prefer to lie down and sleep in the friendly shadow of your house until the heat of the day has done its worst.
SHE. If you want a house to shade you, build one for yourself. Leave mine in peace.
HE. That is not natural. In native life the woman keeps the house and works there: the man keeps the woman and rests there.
SHE. You do not keep the woman in this case. She has had enough of you. Get out.
HE. As I see things the woman does not say get out.
SHE. Do you expect her to say come in? As you see things, the man works out of doors. What does he work at, pray?
HE. He hunts, fishes, and fights.
SHE. Have you hunted or fished for me?
HE. No. I hate killing.
SHE. Have you fought for me?
HE. No. I am a timid creature.
SHE. Cowards are no use to women. They need killers. Where are your scalps?
HE. My what?
SHE. Your trophies that you dare kill. The scalps of our enemies.
HE. I have never killed anybody. I dont want to. I want a decent life for everybody because poor people are as tiresome as rich people.
SHE. What is the woman to eat if you do not kill animals for her?
HE. She can be a vegetarian. I am.
SHE. So am I. But I have learnt here that if we vegetarians do not kill animals the animals will kill us. It is the flesh eaters who let the animals live, and feed and nurse them. We vegetarians will make an end of them. No matter what we eat, man is still the killer and woman the life giver. Can you kill or not?
HE. I can shoot a little, though few experienced country gentlemen would care to be next to me at a shoot. But I do not know how to load the gun: I must have a loader. I cannot find the birds: they have to be driven to me by an army of beaters. And I expect a good lunch afterwards. I can also hunt if somebody will fetch me a saddled horse, and stable it for me and take it off my hands again when the hunt is over. I should be afraid not to fight if you put me into an army and convinced me that if I ran away I should be shot at dawn. But of what use are these heroic accomplishments here? No loaders, no beaters, no grooms, no stables, no soldiers, no King and country. I should have to learn to make bows and arrows and assegais; to track game; to catch and break-in wild horses; and to tackle natives armed with poisoned arrows. I should not have a dog's chance. There are only two things I can do as well as any native: eat and sleep. You have enabled me to eat. Why will you not let me sleep?
SHE. Because I want to practise on the saxophone. The rattlers will come and you will never awake.
HE. Then hadnt you better let me sleep indoors?
SHE. The saxophone would keep you awake.
HE. On the contrary, music always sends me fast asleep.
SHE. The only sleep that is possible here when I am playing the saxophone is the sleep of death.
HE [rising wearily] You have the last word. You are an inhospitable wretch.
SHE. And you are an infernal nuisance [she goes into the house and slams the door].
The native returns with another meal. He puts it down near the door, at which he raps.
THE NATIVE [cries] Ahaiya! Missy's meal.
HE. Say, John: can you direct me to the nearest witch doctor? Spell maker. One who can put terrible strong magics on this house.
THE NATIVE. Sir: magics are superstitions. Pink trash believe such things: colored man, no.
HE. But havnt you gods and priests who can bring down the anger of the gods on unkind people?
THE NATIVE. Sir: there is but one god, the source of all creation. His dwelling is in the sun: therefore though you can look upon all other things you cannot look at the sun.
HE. What do you call him?
THE NATIVE. Sir: his name is not to be pronounced without great reverence. I have been taught that he has other names in other lands; but here his holy name [he bends his neck] is Hoochlipoochli. He has a hundred earthly brides; and she who dwells within is one of them.
HE. Listen to me, John. We white men have a god much much greater than Hoochlipoochli.
THE NATIVE. Sir: that may be so. But you pink men do not believe in your god. We believe in ours. Better have no god at all than a god in whom you do not believe.
HE. What do you mean by our not believing? How do you know we do not believe?
THE NATIVE. He who believes in his god, obeys his commands. You expect your god to obey yours. But pardon me, sir: I am forbidden to converse on such high matters with the unlearned. I perceive by your assurance that you are a highly honorable person among your own people; but here you are a heathen, a barbarian, an infidel. Mentally we are not on the same plane. Conversation between us, except on such simple matters as milk and vegetables, could lead only to bewilderment and strife. I wish you good morning, sir.
HE. Stay, presumptuous one. I would have you to know that I am a Master of Arts of the University of Oxford, the centre of all the learning in the universe. The possession of such a degree places the graduate on the highest mental plane attainable by humanity.
THE NATIVE. How did you obtain that degree, sir, may I respectfully ask?
HE. By paying a solid twenty pounds for it.
THE NATIVE. It is impossible. Knowledge and wisdom cannot be purchased like fashionable garments.
HE. In England they can. A sage teaches us all the questions our examiners are likely to ask us, and the answers they expect from us.
THE NATIVE. One answers questions truthfully only out of one's own wisdom and knowledge.
HE. Not at Oxford. Unless you are a hundred years behind hand in science and seven hundred in history you cannot hope for a degree there.
THE NATIVE. Can it be true that the doctrines of your teachers are less than a thousand years old?
HE. The most advanced of them would have felt quite at home with Richard the Third. I should like to have heard them discussing Columbus with him.
THE NATIVE. Then, sir, you must indeed venerate me; for the doctrines of my teachers have lasted many thousands of centuries. Only the truth could survive so long.
HE. I venerate nobody. Veneration is dead. Oxford doctrine has made a gentleman of me. You, it seems, have been made a sage by a similar process. Are we any the better or wiser?
THE NATIVE. Sir: you have lost your faith; but do not throw the hatchet after the handle. Pink men, when they find that their beliefs are only half true, reject both halves. We colored men are more considerate. My grandfather saw the great evils of this world, and thought they shewed the terrible greatness of Hoochlipoochli. My father saw them also, but could not reconcile the existence of evil with divine justice and benevolence. He therefore believed not only in Hoochlipoochli but in Poochlihoochli, the god of hell, whom you pink men call The Devil. As for me, I cannot believe everything my ancestors believed. I believe as they did that justice and benevolence are mighty powers in the world, but that they have no effective existence save in ourselves, and that except to the extent to which you and I and our like are just and benevolent there is no justice and no benevolence.
HE. And consequently no Hoochlipoochli.
THE NATIVE. Not at all. You are throwing the hatchet after the handle. His kingdom is within us; but it is for us to administer it. Something within me makes me hunger and thirst for righteousness. That something must be Hoochlipoochli.
HE. Was it Hoochlipoochli who set you talking pidgin English to me though you can talk philosopher's English better than most Englishmen?
THE NATIVE. Sir: you began by speaking pidgin to me. You addressed me as John, which is not my name. In courtesy I spoke as you spoke.
HE. Still, when you told me that the woman here is one of Hoochlipoochli's many hundred earthly wives, you were humbugging me.
THE NATIVE. Sir: Hoochlipoochli possesses all of us more or less; and so every woman is his bride. I desired only your good when I bade you beware of her; for it is true that when she plays on her strange instrument the serpents of the bush and the monsters of the lake are charmed, and assemble here to listen.
SHE [throwing open her door and appearing on the threshold with the saxophone in her hand] And if you do not stop talking and maddening me with the sound of your cackle I shall strike up.
HE. Strike up by all means. I shall enjoy a little music.
SHE. We shall see. I have had enough of you.
She preludes on the saxophone.
Hissing and rattlings in the bush. An alligator crawls in. The two men fly for their lives.
A drawingroom in Belgrave Square, London, converted into a Chinese temple on a domestic scale, with white walls just enough rose tinted to take the glare off, and a tabernacle in vermilion and gold, on a dais of two broad shallow steps. Divan seats, softly upholstered against the walls, and very comfortable easy chairs of wickerwork, luxuriously cushioned, are also available. There is a sort of bishop's chair at one corner of the tabernacle. The effect is lovely and soothing, as only Chinese art could make it.
A most incongruous figure enters: a middle-aged twentieth century London solicitor, carrying a case of papers. He is accompanied and ushered by a robed Chinese priest, who fits perfectly into the surroundings.
THE SOLICITOR [looking round him] Whats all this? I should have been shewn into the library. Do you understand who I am? Sir Ferdinand Flopper, Mr Buoyant's solicitor?
THE PRIEST. It is Mr Buoyant's wish that you should meet his children in this holy place. Did he not mention it in your instructions?
SIR FERDINAND. No. This place is not holy. We are in Belgrave Square, not in Hong Kong.
THE PRIEST. Sir: in many old English houses there is a room set apart as a meditation parlor.
SIR FERDINAND, Pooh! They have been abolished.
THE PRIEST. Yes. The English people no longer meditate.
SIR FERDINAND. Does Mr Buoyant?
THE PRIEST. His soul needs refreshment. He is a mighty man of business: in his hands all things turn into money. Souls perish under such burdens. He comes here and sits for half an hour while I go through my act of worship, of which he does not understand a single word. But he goes out a new man, soothed and serene. You may call this his oratory.
SIR FERDINAND. I shall certainly not call it anything of the sort. His oratory would be a Church of England oratory.
THE PRIEST. He has not found peace in the Church of England.
SIR FERDINAND. And you tell me that he has found it here, in this outlandish apartment where he does not understand a word of the service!
THE PRIEST. In the Church of England he understood too much. He could not believe. And the people in their Sunday clothes were so forbidding!
SIR FERDINAND. Forbidding!!
THE PRIEST. Sunday clothes and poker faces. No peace, no joy. But for the music they would all go mad. That is, perhaps, why you do not go to church.
SIR FERDINAND. Who told you I do not go to church?
THE PRIEST. Nobody told me. But do you?
SIR FERDINAND. I am here on business, and cannot waste my morning on religious discussions. Will you be good enough to direct me to the library?
THE PRIEST. You would find it a rather dismal apartment after this one. And its atmosphere is mentally paralyzing. Mr Buoyant's instructions are that your advice to his family must be given here. But no religious service is to be imposed on you.
SIR FERDINAND. Nothing can be imposed on me. The atmosphere here is most unsuitable. Does the family know I have arrived?
THE PRIEST. Here they are.
The family, consisting of a middle-aged widower, a younger man, two married ladies, an unmarried girl of 20, and an irreverent youth of 17, enters. The widower introduces them.
THE WIDOWER. Good morning, Sir Ferdinand. We are the family of your client Mr Bastable Buoyant, better known as Old Bill Buoyant the Billionaire. I am a widower. The ladies are my brothers' wives. One brother is absent: he leaves everything to his wife. The two children are our sister Darkie and our brother Fiffy, registered as Eudoxia Emily and Frederick.
They bow to Sir Ferdinand as they are introduced, and seat themselves on the divan, the husbands on opposite sides from their wives.
The two juniors also plant themselves on opposite sides well to the fore. Sir Ferdinand, returning their bows rather stiffly, seats himself in the bishop's chair.
THE PRIEST. I leave you to your deliberations. Peace be with you!
He goes, the family waving him a salute.
SIR FERDINAND. As I have only just been called in, and am a stranger to you all, I am naturally somewhat at a loss. How much do you know already of the business I am to put before you?
DARKIE [taking the lead at once decisively] Nothing whatever. Business means money; and none of us knows anything about money because our father knows everything about it. But I know all about housekeeping because our mother knew nothing about it and cared less. She preferred painting. We had extraordinarily clever parents; and the result is that we are a family of helpless duffers.
SECONDBORN. That is true. So much has been done for us we have learnt to do hardly anything for ourselves. I am a bit of a mathematician, but earn nothing by it.
MRS SECONDBORN [an aggressive woman] Mathematics; that is his fad. Start a Buoyant on a fad; and he is happy and busy with it for the rest of the year.
THE YOUTH. We are too damnably rich, you see. The boss making billions all the time.
DARKIE. We have bits and scraps of tastes and talents for scholarship, painting, playing musical instruments, writing, and talking. One brother is a champion amateur boxer. Another is a historian and knows eleven languages. He is also a pedestrian and walks 3000 miles every year on principle. We are all more or less like that, because daddy began with eight shillings a week and taught himself to read and write when he was seventeen and wanted to write to his mother. She could read handwriting.
THE WIDOWER. Darkie is explaining to you that as we are entirely dependent on our father for our incomes we can defend ourselves against his tyranny only by acquiring the culture of which an uneducated man stands in awe.
MRS THIRDBORN [gentle, beautiful, and saintly] Oh, he is not a tyrant.
THE WIDOWER. He might be, if we were not obviously his social superiors.
MRS SECONDBORN. In justice to the old devil I must say that, as far as I can make out, he has never spoken a cross word to any of you.
DARKIE. I never said he did. I was going on to explain my own exceptional position in the family. Am I boring you, Sir Ferdinand?
SIR FERDINAND. Not at all. We have plenty of time before lunch. So if your position is exceptional, I had better know what it is.
DARKIE. Well, as I am the only female, I am the spoilt darling and pampered pet of the lot. I have no talents, no accomplishments, except what I picked up doing just what I liked and was given everything I asked for. That has been harder than any schooling; and I sometimes blame my parents for not having thrashed the life out of me instead of leaving me to learn life's lessons by breaking my shins against them and falling into every booby trap. I was so over-petted that I had to learn or die. So if there is anything real to be done I have to see to it.
MRS THIRDBORN [very kindly] Dont mind her, Sir Ferdinand. She always talks the greatest nonsense about herself.
DARKIE. I daresay I do. Anyhow I have finished now. Go ahead, Sir Ferdinand.
SIR FERDINAND. One question first please. Mr Buoyant must have had legal advice during all these years. Is there not a family solicitor?
THE WIDOWER. No. He does not believe in having the same solicitor every time.
DARKIE. He thinks it is throwing away experience. He always calls in a different doctor when he is ill.
THE YOUTH. He picks up his solicitor for the job, like picking up a taxi.
THE WIDOWER. There is something to be said for his plan. He has learnt much about doctors and solicitors by it.
SECONDBORN. He now advises his doctors and instructs his solicitors.
SIR F. If so, why does he call them in at all?
MRS SECONDBORN. If he didnt, and any of us died, or any money he is trustee for went wrong, he might be prosecuted for negligence or conversion or something.
SIR F. True. But this raises questions of professional etiquet. I have some misgivings as to whether I can act in the case.
THE YOUTH. If the boss says you can, you may bet your bottom dollar it will be all right.
DARKIE. He makes so much money that whatever he says, goes.
SIR F. Not legally.
THE WIDOWER. No doubt. But it works pragmatically.
SIR F. I hardly know what to say. You are such an unusually outspoken family, and your father such an extraordinary man, that I should like to know more of you. You belong to a new generation, quite unlike mine. I am at sea here. May I continue provisionally as a friendly acquaintance rather than as a solicitor?
DARKIE. The very thing!
THE YOUTH. Silence all.
DARKIE. Go ahead, Sir Ferdinand. Whats the latest?
SIR F. You know, I presume, that your father's money, now practically unlimited, has been made, and is still being made, on the money market, by buying stocks and shares and selling them again at a profit. Such profits are not taxed, as they are classed as capital, not as income. Consequently it has been possible for your father to remain enormously rich, although the war taxation has abolished rich men as a class.
THE YOUTH. So much the better for us.
SIR F. Not altogether. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may tax money market incomes, either as such or as gambling. In that case The Buoyant Billions will dry up abruptly. In any case they will stop with his death, which cannot now be far off. Your incomes will be taxed like everyone elses, if you have any incomes. Have you?
THE WIDOWER. All I know is that what money I need appears to my credit in my bank passbook as cash or dividends on the few investments my stockbroker has advised.
SIR F. Does that apply all round?
SECONDBORN. To me, yes.
DARKIE. I told you so, Sir Ferdinand. None of us knows anything about making money because our father knows all about it.
SIR F. Has he never taught you anything about it?
THE WIDOWER. He couldnt. He does not understand it himself. He makes money by instinct, as beavers build dams.
SECONDBORN. Whenever I have taken his financial advice I have lost by it. I now leave it to my banker.
SIR F. Then I am afraid I must warn you all that you will presently become very poor. You will have to let your country houses and live in gate lodges and gardeners' cottages. Your ladies will have to do the housework. Your clothes will have to last you for years. I am here to impress these hard facts on you.
THE WIDOWER. But surely this shortage will not last for ever. The Labor Government, which is responsible for these robberies of the rich, will be defeated at the next election.
SIR F. Do not depend on that. All the king's horses and all the king's men cannot bring back the unearned incomes of the nineteenth century. The Socialists and Trade Unionists will see to that.
DARKIE. None of us women knows how to do housework.
SIR F. I am afraid you will have to learn.
MRS SECONDBORN. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous. The war is over; and there will always be rich and poor. The Chancellor is a beggar on horseback. He will be sent back to the gutter at the next election.
SIR F. Nobody can object to these revolutionary changes more than I do; but they are occurring among my clients every day.
MRS SECONDBORN. Nonsense! We must live. What are we to do?
SIR F. Reduce your expenditure. Live as poorer people than yourselves now live.
MRS SECONDBORN. Oh yes, poor people. But we are not poor people. We cannot live that way.
MRS THIRDBORN. Why not? Our riches have not made us happy. Our Lord's mother was the wife of a carpenter. I have always thought of her as a woman who did her own housework. I am sure I could learn. Is it not easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich woman to enter the kingdom of heaven?
MRS SECONDBORN. Oh, you are religious. Much good your religion will do us!
THE WIDOWER. Dont let us quarrel about religion.
THE YOUTH. The old man isnt dead yet. He will make billions, taxes or no taxes. Lets make the most of him while he lasts.
SECONDBORN. I find it hard to believe that he will ever die. He is a human calculating machine. Calculating machines dont die.
SIR F. They wear out. He cannot live for ever.
THE WIDOWER. I used to play the cornet fairly well. If only my wife were alive to play my accompaniments on a street piano I should not starve.
SIR F. None of you need starve. On your father's reputation you will live on company directorships. You need not know anything about the businesses; your name on the prospectus will be sufficient. I must now pass on to another matter. Mr Buoyant has added to his instruction this sentence. "My elder daughter is provided for and need not be present. She can take care of herself." Have you a sister, Miss Buoyant?
DARKIE. I have a stepsister.
SIR F. [surprised] Was your father twice married?
THE WIDOWER. He was; but we try to forget it. We are ashamed of it.
MRS THIRDBORN. I am not ashamed of it.
MRS SECONDBORN. Thats only your religion: you have no natural feelings. Of course we are ashamed of it.
SIR F. May I ask what was wrong about it?
THE WIDOWER. Nothing wrong. But when our father married he was a very poor man; and he married a very common woman. She had never in her life had a satisfying dinner; and she died of overeating when they could afford it. They had one daughter.
MRS SECONDBORN. A quite impossible person.
SIR F. In what way?
DARKIE. She can do everything we cant do. She can cook. She can make beds. She can make her own clothes. She can sweep and scrub. She can nurse. She learnt it all before she was ten, and was sent to a ladies' school.
MRS SECONDBORN. Nothing could make a real lady of her. She dresses like a lady, and can talk like a lady, and can behave like a lady when she likes; but she does not belong to us. Her ten years of poverty and commonness makes a difference we cannot get over. She knows things a lady ought not to know.
MRS THIRDBORN. Including some things nobody ought to know. But it is not her fault.
MRS SECONDBORN. She has no manners at home, and no education. She keeps them for visitors. No class.
SIR F. My dear good people, you are behind the times. It is now a disgrace to have been born rich. Fashion is led by the wives of Cabinet Ministers whose fathers and husbands began on five shillings a week: they boast of it. Your stepsister is probably ashamed of you. May I ask where she is at present?
THE WIDOWER. In Panama, we believe.
SIR F. Panama!
THE YOUTH. On the banks of the canal all alone in a shack put up by herself and a few natives.
SECONDBORN. An interesting experience. When I feel that I can no longer bear civilized society I retreat into pure mathematics. But I need not go to Panama for that, thank Heaven.
MRS SECONDBORN. No: because I provide a comfortable home for you, where you can see whom you like when you like. This woman lives like a savage in a swamp full of snakes and alligators and natives.
SECONDBORN. My dear: the world is so wicked and ignorant and unreasonable that I must get away from it occasionally.
MRS SECONDBORN. You do it to get away from me. You think I dont know; but I do. Am I wicked and ignorant and unreasonable?
SECONDBORN. Occasionally, my dear. Only occasionally. Not always.
MRS SECONDBORN. Well, of all the monstrous accusations--
SIR F. Need we go into your domestic affairs? We really must not be personal.
MRS SECONDBORN. Whatever is not personal is not human.
The woman from Panama dashes into the temple, in travelling dress, and in a blazing rage.
SHE. What is all this? Why was I not told? [To Sir F.] Who are you?
SIR F. I am Mr Buoyant's solicitor, in consultation with his family. May I ask whom I am addressing?
SHE. You are addressing old Bill Buoyant's firstborn, next to himself the head of the family.
SIR F. Then you are expressly excluded from this family council on the ground that you are already provided for. The rest may have to face ruin when your father dies.
SHE. Well, here I am and here I stay. When they are all ruined they will expect me to keep them on my annuity. I cant and wont. So now give me a chair.
THE YOUTH [giving her his chair] Here you are, Clemmy. [He plants it in front of the altar at the side opposite to Sir Ferdinand; fetches another for himself; and resumes his place].
SIR F. Did you say Clemmy? The name in my instructions is Babzy.
SHE. Babzy is my vulgar father's vulgar pet name for his vulgar first baby. I was christened Clementina Alexandra; but Babzy is shorter: my father would not change it. Clemmy to the others.
MRS SECONDBORN. Have you come home for good?
SHE. That wont matter to you, Julia. For my home is here, in Daddy's house, not in yours. Daddy is growing old; and old men sometimes do foolish things with their money. None of you knows anything about money; so I had better keep an eye on you and him. Where is Daddy?
SIR F. Mr Buoyant is staying away purposely. He has no gift of expression; and his children, he tells me, are too much for him as talkers, and generally arrive at wrong conclusions by talking their feet off the ground. I am quoting his own words. Having done my best to act for him without making the least impression on your very interesting relatives, I really do not know why I am staying, especially as you appear to be taking my place. I had better go.
SHE. No. Stay for the fun of it. Whats your name, by the way?
SIR F. Envelopes should be addressed to Sir Ferdinand Flopper, Bart.
SHE. What! The great Sir Ferdinand?
SIR F. You are good enough to put it that way. Now may I ask you a question?
SHE. Ask a dozen if you like.
SIR F. You did not come back from Panama to attend this meeting. You must have left before it was decided on.
SHE. How clever of you to think of that! I came because I was attacked by the symptoms of a very dangerous disease.
They all shew great concern, exclaiming Oh in their various ways.
SIR F. Oh! You came for medical advice. I beg your pardon.
SHE. No. It is not a doctor's job. I found myself what is called falling in love. I had illusions, infatuations, impulses that were utterly unreasonable and irresistible. Desires in which my body was taking command of my soul. And all for a man of whom I knew nothing: a passing vagabond who had begged a meal from me. He came to me next day and said he had fallen in love with me at first sight, and that he was going quite mad about me. He warned me to run away and leave no address, as he would follow me to the ends of the earth if he knew where I was; and we should both make fools of ourselves by getting married. So I fled; and here I am. He does not know my name, nor I his. But when I think of him everything is transfigured and I am magically happy. Unreadable poems like the Song of Solomon delight me: bagatelles by Beethoven deepen into great sonatas: every walk through the country is an exploration of the plains of heaven. My reason tells me that this cannot possibly be real; that the day will come when it will vanish and leave me face to face with reality; perhaps tied to a husband who may be anything from a criminal to an intolerable bore. So I have run away and put the seas between me and this figure that looks like a beautiful and wonderful celestial messenger--a Lohengrin--but really does not exist at all except in my imagination. So now you know, all of you. Let us change the subject.
SIR F. Not, if you please, until I have reminded you that very few men are criminals, and that most married couples spend the whole day apart, the woman in the house, the man in the office or study or workshop. And there is such a possibility as divorce.
THE WIDOWER. Besides, take my case. My late wife and I were so indispensable to oneanother that a separation would have been for us a desolating calamity. Yet I repeatedly found myself irresistibly attracted biologically by females with whom I could not converse seriously for five minutes. My wife needed some romance in her life when I ceased to be romantic to her and became only her matter-of-fact husband. To keep her in good humor and health I had to invite and entertain a succession of interesting young men to keep her supplied with what I call Sunday husbands.
MRS SECONDBORN. That is a perfectly different thing. You have low tastes, which you occasionally gratify. I take an interest in young men; but I do not misconduct myself with them.
SECONDBORN. That, my love, is because your sense of property is stronger than your biological instinct. I am your property. Therefore you are damnably jealous.
MRS SECONDBORN. I deny it. I am not jealous.
THE WIDOWER. I think Sir Ferdinand's mind would be clearer on the subject if, like me, he had been married twice. My first marriage, which was quite biological, was a failure. What people called our love turned into something very like hatred. But biological tastes are not low tastes. Our two children were great successes: beautiful children with good characters. But nobody could live in the same house with their mother.
SIR F. [very gravely] Excuse me. I do not think you should speak of your dead wife in such terms.
THE WIDOWER. Oh, she is not dead: I let her divorce me. We are now quite good friends again. But to understand this question it is not enough to have been married once. Henry the Eighth would be the leading authority if he were alive. The prophet Mahomet was married more than fourteen times. And what about Solomon?
SIR F. Do pray let us keep religion out of this discussion. Surely religion is one thing, and the British marriage law another.
All the rest laugh, except Mrs Secondborn, who snorts.
SIR F. What is there to laugh at? Can we not be sensible and practical? We are dealing with the hard cash of your incomes, not with Solomon and Mahomet. We are not Mormons. Their wives in British law were only concubines.
THE WIDOWER. I hold that concubines are a necessary institution. In a nation wellbred biologically there should be concubines as well as wives and husbands. Some marriages are between couples who have no children because they have hereditary ailments which they fear to transmit to their offspring. Others are of shrews and bullies who produce excellent bastards, though domestic life with them is impossible. They should be concubines, not husbands and wives. All concubinages are exactly alike. No two marriages are alike.
SIR F. Nonsense! All marriages are exactly alike in law.
THE WIDOWER. So much the worse for law, I am afraid.
MRS THIRDBORN. No two love affairs are alike. I was in love three times before I married a friend who was not in love with me nor I with him. We were both sane. Yet we can say honestly "Whom God hath joined"--
SIR F. Oh, do please leave God out of the question. Marriage is a legal institution; and God has nothing to do with legal institutions.
MRS THIRDBORN. God keeps butting in somehow.
SIR F. Surely that is not the way to speak of the Almighty. If you must drag in religion, at least do so in becoming language.
MRS THIRDBORN. When you really believe in God you can make fun of Him. When you are only pretending you pull long faces and call Him Gawd.
MRS SECONDBORN. Dont forget that when you wake up from your dreams and delusions about your husband you have your children to love. You may be only too glad to be rid of your crazy notions about your husband. The kids fill his place.
MRS THIRDBORN. Not after they are six, when they go to school and begin to be independent of you and form a new relation with their teachers. Only husband and wife come to feel that they belong to oneanother and are really parts of oneanother. That is one of the mysteries of marriage.
MRS SECONDBORN. Besides, the illusions dont affect people who have common sense. I never read the Song of Solomon, nor bothered about Beethoven; but I always knew whether it was a fine day or a wet one without any nonsense about the plains of heaven. Dick's weaknesses were as obvious to me then as they are now. But I could put up with them. I liked him because he was so unlike me. [To her husband] And it was the same with you, wasnt it, Dick?
SECONDBORN. Not quite. I had my share of the illusions. But when they vanished they did not matter much. I had got used to you. Let us look at this mathematically. The sex illusion is not a fixed quantity: not what mathematicians call a constant. It varies from zero in my wife's case to madness in that of our stepsister. Reason and experience, which hold it in check, are also variable. Our stepsister is highly observant and reasonable. My wife is totally unreasonable.
MRS SECONDBORN. Which of us two is the reasonable one? Who keeps the house for you? Who looks after your clothes? Who sees that you get your meals regularly and do not eat and drink more than is good for you? Reason! I have to reason with you every day, and can get nothing out of you but incomprehensible ravings about variables and functions. Your mind never stays put for ten minutes at a time.
SECONDBORN. My dearest: nothing in the world ever stays put for ten seconds. We can know it only relatively at any moment. Yet most people can think only absolutely. Relatively, variably, mathematically, they cannot think at all. Everything for them is either soot or whitewash. They undertake to make a new world after every war without brains enough to add a to b.
MRS SECONDBORN. Are you happy with me or are you not?
SECONDBORN. I am never happy. I dont want to be happy. I want to be alive and active. Bothering about happiness is the worst unhappiness.
DARKIE. Oh, let us talk sense. [To her stepsister] Clemmy: your room is not ready for you: to clear it will take weeks. And there are no maids to be got now.
SHE. English maids are no use to me. I have brought a Panama native: he will clear my room for me in twenty minutes.
THE WIDOWER. Then our business is finished. Sir Ferdinand has told us that our incomes will stop when our father dies. He has advised us that we can live on directorships on the strength of our famous name and its associations with billions. I hope so. What more is there to be said?
THE YOUTH. What about me? Nobody will make me a director. I am a world betterer.
SIR F. World betterer! What new hare are you starting now?
THE YOUTH. All intelligent men of my age are world betterers today.
SIR F. Pooh! You will drop all that nonsense when you take your university degree.
THE WIDOWER. Impossible. Our father gave us all the money we needed on condition that we would never engage in money making, nor take a university degree.
SIR F. Not go to a university!
SECONDBORN. You misunderstand. We have all spent three years at college. Our father sent us there to acquire the social training the communal life of a university gives. But he insisted on our leaving without a degree.
SIR F. In Heaven's name, why?
SECONDBORN. One of his notions. He holds that dictated mental work on uncongenial subjects is overwork which injures the brain permanently. So we are not university graduates; but we are university men none the less. If a man is known to have been at Oxford or Cambridge nobody ever asks whether he has taken a degree or not.
SIR F. But that does not justify false pretences.
THE YOUTH. University degrees are the falsest of pretences. Graduates as a class are politically and scientifically obsolete and ignorant. Even in the elementary schools children spend nine years without learning how to speak their native language decently or write it easily.
THE WIDOWER. We are not impostors, Sir Ferdinand, because we ran away from our examinations. What culture a university can give, we possess. However, if you have any scruples--
SIR F. I have scruples. I have principles. I have common sense. I have sanity. They seem to have no place in the affairs of this family.
MRS THIRDBORN. Listen to me, Sir Ferdinand. You must understand that my father-in-law's dearest wish was to be a teacher and a preacher. But as he had original ideas no one would employ him as a preacher nor listen to him as a teacher. He could do nothing but make money: though he regarded it as the curse of his life. He made it in the city all day and returned to his home every evening to forget it, and teach his children to speak their minds always and never to mistake saying the proper thing for the truth.
SIR F. But surely the truth is always the proper thing.
MRS THIRDBORN. Yes; but the proper thing is not always God's truth.
SIR F. [bothered] You give things such a twist! We really shall get nowhere unless you will speak in an expected manner.
The Panama native, attired as a British valet, enters hastily and comes straight to Her.
NATIVE. Pink lady: the man has come.
NATIVE. In this house. He will not be denied. He has divine guidance. He has seen you again at the singing theatre here in London. God led him to Panama.
SHE. Shew him up.
The Native bows his assent and goes out.
SIR F. May I ask who is this man?
SHE. He is the man I am in love with: the object of my illusions, my madness. If he followed me across the Atlantic, and tracked me back again, he must be as mad as I am.
NATIVE [at the door, announcing] The man of destiny. [He withdraws].
The Son, elegantly dressed, enters.
HE [to Her, standing in the middle of the temple after looking at the company in dismay] Am I intruding? I had hoped to find you alone.
SHE. The Buoyants are never alone. Let me introduce you. My stepbrothers, Tom and Dick. Mrs Dick and Mrs Harry: a grass widow. Tom is a widower. Darkie: my unmarried stepsister. Fiffy: the youngest. Sir Ferdinand Whopper, our father's latest and most eminent solicitor.
SIR F. My name is not Whopper: it is Flopper.
SHE. My mistake. They rhyme.
HE. Bon soir la compagnie. This room is like a temple. Are you engaged in an act of worship?
MRS THIRDBORN. All the world is a temple of the Holy Ghost. You may be quite at your ease here, resting your soul.
SIR F. In what capacity do you claim to join us, may I ask?
HE. Only in pursuit of old Bill Buoyant's billions. I am by profession a world betterer. I need money for investigation and experiment. I saw Miss Buoyant one night at the opera. She attracted me so strongly that I did not hear a note of the music. I found out who she was but not what she is. I know nothing of her tastes, her intelligence, her manners, her temper: in short, of anything that would make it possible for me to live with her; yet I feel that I must possess her. For this I have no excuse. Nature has struck this blow at me: I can neither explain it nor resist it: I am mad about her. All I can do is to marry her for her money if I can persuade her to marry me.
SIR F. Do I understand that you propose to marry this lady for her money, and are apologizing for wanting to marry her for love as well?
HE. I said nothing about love. Love means many different things: love of parents and children, love of pet animals, love of whisky or strawberry ices, love of cricket or lawn tennis, also love of money. My case is a specific one of animal magnetism, as inexplicable as the terrestrial magnetism that drags a steel ship to a north or south pole that is not the astronomical pole. The ship can be demagnetized: who can demagnetize me? No one. We have not even a name for this mystery.
SIR F. I should call it the voice of nature.
HE. How much farther does that get you? Calling things names does not explain them: it is the trade of sham scientists who do not know what science means.
SECONDBORN. That is true. Are you a mathematician?
HE. I know the multiplication table, and can do very simple sums: that is all; but though I cannot do equations, I am mathematician enough to know that nothing is stationary: everything is moving and changing.
SHE. What complicates the affair is that I am in love with this man. And I dare not marry a man I love. I should be his slave.
SIR F. Really you are all quite mad. Is not your being in love with him a reason for marrying him if he is in love with you, as he appears to be in spite of his outrageous boast of being a fortune hunter?
SHE. You may leave money out of the question. Though I was brought up never to think of money, I have never spent all my annuity; and with what I could spare I have doubled my income on the money market. I have inherited my father's flair for finance. Money makes itself in my hands in spite of his preaching. When I want a husband I can afford to pay for him.
HE. That is very satisfactory. Why not marry me?
SHE. We might regret it. Love marriages are the most unreasonable, and probably the most often regretted.
HE. Everything we do can be regretted. There is only one thing that a woman is certain to regret.
SHE. What is that, pray?
HE. Being unmarried.
SHE. I deny it. The day of ridiculous old maids is over. Great men have been bachelors and great women virgins.
HE. They may have regretted it all the same.
SIR F. I must remind you, Miss Buoyant, that though many women have regretted their marriages there is one experience that no woman has ever regretted, and that experience is motherhood. Celibacy for a woman is il gran rifiuto, the great refusal of her destiny, of the purpose in life which comes before all personal considerations: the replacing of the dead by the living.
MRS THIRDBORN. For once, dear Sir Ferdinand, you are not talking nonsense. Child bearing is an experience which it is impossible to regret. It is definitely ordained.
SECONDBORN. Regret is essentially mathematical. What are the mathematical probabilities? How many marriages are regretted? How much are they regretted? How long are they regretted? What is the proportion of divorces? The registrar of marriages should have a totalizator balancing these quantities. There should be one in every church. People would then know what chances they are taking. Should first cousins marry? Should Catholics and Protestants marry? Should lepers marry? At what ages should they marry? Without these statistics you cannot give scientific answers to these questions: you have only notions and guesswork to go on.
HE. Our fancies come first: they are irresistible. They must have a meaning and a purpose. Well, I have a strong fancy for your stepsister; and she confesses to a strong fancy for me. Let us chance it.
DARKIE. What about your own experience, Sir Ferdinand?
SHE. Yes. How did your own marriage turn out? Did you marry for love?
SIR F. I am not married. I am a bachelor.
They laugh at him.
SIR F. What are you all laughing at? Am I expected to substitute personal experiences for legal advice? May I not advise women though I am not a woman? I am here to advise a family which I can only describe charitably as a family of lunatics. Does not the value of my advice lie in the fact that I am not myself a lunatic?
THE YOUTH. But you are a lunatic. And you havnt given us any advice.
SECONDBORN. What have you given us? Instead of facts, escapist romance from the cinemas. Instead of mathematical and relative measurements, a three dimensional timeless universe. Instead of logic, association of ideas, mostly nonsensical ideas. Instead of analysis, everything in totalitarian lumps. Nothing scientific.
SIR F. I am a lawyer, not a scientist.
SECONDBORN. Until law and science, politics and religion, are all one, the scientists, the lawyers, the clergymen, the politicians will be foolish tinkers who think they can mend the world because they can mend holes in a saucepan.
DARKIE. Do let us get back to tin tacks. Is Clemmy going to marry him or is she not? If she says yes I bet she will have her own way whatever he does.
THE WIDOWER. The woman always does. I have gone twice to my weddings like a lamb to the slaughter house. My two wives were triumphant, I bought new clothes, oiled and brushed my hair, and was afraid to run away. My second marriage was a success: I knew what to expect. Second marriages are the quietest and happiest. The twice married, if one of them dies, marry a third time even at the most advanced age.
SIR F. Then marriage is not a failure as an institution. With reasonable divorce laws, not at all.
HE [to Her] You hear?
SHE. Sit down, will you. Dont stand over me, pontificating.
HE. I beg your pardon. [He sits down on the altar step in the middle].
SHE. You make everything beautiful to me. You give me a happiness I have never experienced before. But if I marry you all this will cease. If I dont marry you--if you die--if we never meet again, it may last all my life. And there are rights I will give to no man over me.
SIR F. Conjugal rights. They cannot now be enforced. Not effectively. Do not let them hinder you. What are the gentleman's means? that is the question.
SHE. What am I to do with my means? that also is the question.
HE. What all independent women do with their means. Keep a husband on them.
MRS SECONDBORN. Is a husband a dog or a cat to be kept as a pet? I never heard such nonsense.
HE. Dogs are sometimes better bargains. I am not so sure about cats.
MRS SECONDBORN [rising] Come home, Dick. I have had enough of this. It will just end in their getting married like other people. Come home. [She storms out].
MRS THIRDBORN [rising] Sir Ferdinand's law has failed us. Dick's science has failed us. Fiff's boyish dreams have failed us: he has not yet bettered the world. We must leave it in God's hands. [She goes out].
SECONDBORN [rising] It always comes to that: leave it to God, though we do not know what God is, and are still seeking a general mathematical theory expressing Him. All we know is that He leaves much of it to us; and we make a shocking mess of it. We must be goodnatured and make the best of it. Goodbye, Mr Golddigger. [He follows his wife out].
THE WIDOWER [rising] As I have no wife to decide for me, I must go of my own accord.
SIR F. [rising] As nobody pays the slightest attention to my advice, I will accompany you. [The three go out].
DARKIE [rising] Come on, Fiff. Lets leave them alone together.
HE. Thank you.
Darkie and Fiff go out.
SHE. I will think about it.
The Chinese Priest returns, followed by the Native swinging a censer.
THE PRIEST. Will you have the kindness to follow your friends and leave me to purify this temple of peace. It has been terribly profaned for the last hour. Father Buoyant will be here presently for his rest, his meditation, his soothing, his divine recreation. You have poisoned its atmosphere with your wranglings. I must change its air and restore its peace lest it kill Father Buoyant instead of giving him a foretaste of heaven. Go now: you must not breathe here any longer.
SHE [rising] Daddy made me sit still and be silent here when I was in my restless teens. I detested it. The scent of incense sickens me. [To Him] Come, you. We must think it over.
She goes out. He waves his hand to the Priest and follows.
THE PRIEST. What freaks these pinks are! Belonging neither to the west, like you, nor to the east, like me.
THE NATIVE [swinging the censer] Neither to north nor south; but in that they resemble us. They have much to teach us.
THE PRIEST. Yes; but they are themselves unteachable, not understanding what they teach.
THE NATIVE. True: they can teach; but they cannot learn.
THE PRIEST. Freaks. Dangerous freaks. The future is with the learners.
The temple vanishes, blacked out.
When the temple reappears the censer is on the altar. The Priest and the Native are rearranging the chairs.
Old Bill Buoyant comes in. A greybeard, like any other greybeard; but a gorgeous golden dressing gown and yellow slippers give him a hieratic air.
OLD BILL. Have they all cleared out?
PRIEST. All. The temple is cleansed.
OLD BILL. Good. Who is your friend?
NATIVE. I am the servant of your daughter.
OLD BILL. Which daughter?
NATIVE. From Panama.
OLD BILL. Good. Has she left the house yet?
NATIVE. Not without me. I drive her car.
OLD BILL. Good. Tell her to come and see me here.
NATIVE. At your service, O sage. [He salaams and goes out].
OLD BILL. Shall I profane the temple if I kiss my daughter here? I am fond of her.
PRIEST. Truly no. The temple will sanctify your kiss.
OLD BILL. Good. It is curious how happy I always feel here. I am not a religious man. I do not go to church.
PRIEST. You meditate.
OLD BILL. No. Meditation is not in my line: I speculate. And my speculations turn out well when I spend an hour here and just empty my mind.
PRIEST. When the mind is empty the gods take possession. And the gods know.
OLD BILL. Yes: I suppose thats it. But it's a queer business: I thought I was the very last man in the world to put my nose into a temple. However, you know all this. I am repeating myself, and boring you. Leave me to myself. [He seats himself in the bishop's chair].
PRIEST. I repeat the service every day; yet it does not bore me: there is always something new in it. They tell me it is the same with your orchestral symphonies: the great ones cannot be heard too often. But as you desire, I leave you to your aftercalm.
OLD BILL. So long, Mahatma.
The Priest nods gravely, and is going when She and He come in.
THE PRIEST. Peace be with you three. [He goes].
SHE [rushing to Old Bill and kissing him] Daddyest!
OLD BILL [returning her embrace] My Babzy! Who is the man?
SHE. I dont know. He wants to marry me.
OLD BILL. Does he indeed? Do you want to marry him?
SHE. I am considering it. I am not dead set against it.
OLD BILL. Whats his name?
SHE. I dont know.
OLD BILL. The devil you dont!
SHE [to Him] Whats your name?
HE. Smith. Only Smith. Christened Junius.
OLD BILL. Have you nothing else to say for yourself?
JUNIUS. Nothing whatever.
OLD BILL. Any profession?
HE. World betterer. Nothing paying.
SHE. If I marry him I shall have to keep him and manage for him. But that is not altogether a drawback. I do not mean to be any man's kept slave.
OLD BILL [to Junius] What about you? Do you want to be any woman's kept man?
JUNIUS. I dont want anything but your daughter. I dont know why. I know nothing about her; and she knows nothing about me. I am simply mad on the subject.
OLD BILL [to Her] Are you mad on the subject?
SHE. Not so mad as he is. I can do without him. If not, I should be his slave.
OLD BILL. Do you hear that, young man? You will be the slave.
JUNIUS. I suppose so. But I must risk it. So must she. You can understand this. You have made your billions by taking risks.
OLD BILL. I have seen men ruined by taking risks. I have a sort of instinct about them which brings me out all right. For old Bill Buoyant there are no risks. But for you, perhaps???
JUNIUS. Well, there may be none for your daughter. She may inherit your genius.
OLD BILL. She does. But my genius tells me not to throw away my daughter on a young lunatic.
JUNIUS. You are jealous, eh? Let me remind you that all parents must see their children walk out sooner or later. Mothers-in-law are stock jokes. Nobody jokes about fathers-in-law; but they are troublesome enough when they hold on too long.
SHE. Parents cannot be turned out into the woods to die. We are not savages. Daddy will always be a part of my life.
JUNIUS. Not always. How long do you intend to live, old man?
OLD BILL. Not for ever: God forbid! [To Her] The fellow is right, darling. Leave me out of the question.
SHE. I cant leave you out, Daddy. But you will know your natural place in my house: you have always known it in your own. I can trust you.
JUNIUS. I have no objection to your father as long as he lasts. He has the billions.
OLD BILL. The billions will stop when I die. Would you be as keen if there were no billions?
JUNIUS. Just as keen. How often must I tell you that I am mad about her? But we shall want the money. I have earned nothing so far.
OLD BILL [to Her] He has an eye for facts, this chap. I rather like him.
SHE. Yes: so do I. He has no illusions about himself nor about me. After all, if he turns out badly I can divorce him.
OLD BILL. Well, our parting must come someday; and if you and I were the wisest father and daughter on earth the upshot would be just as much a toss-up as if we were the two damndest fools. Still, there are certain precautions one can take.
JUNIUS. A joint annuity, for instance.
OLD BILL. Your sense of money is very clear, young man. But I have already bought her an annuity for her life. Not for yours. Any further precautions you must take yourself.
JUNIUS. I must agree. The Life Force has got me. I can make no conditions.
OLD BILL [to Her] Well, will you marry him?
SHE. I will consider it.
JUNIUS. If you consider it you will refuse. There would be no marriages if the two started considering.
OLD BILL. That is the first stupid thing you have said, young man. All marriages are very anxiously considered; but considering has never yet prevented a marriage. If you are her man she will have you, consideration or no consideration.
SHE. What do you advise, Daddy?
OLD BILL. Oh, take him, take him. I like him; and he will do as well as another. You may regret it; but you will regret it worse if you are afraid to try your luck.
JUNIUS. I am surprised and deeply obliged to you, Mr Buoyant. I expected you to use all your influence against me. You are a model father-in-law.
SHE. I feel as if I were going to commit suicide.
JUNIUS. In a sense, you are. So am I. The chrysalis dies when the dragonfly is born.
SHE. I am no chrysalis. I am a working bee: you are a drone.
JUNIUS. That is nature's arrangement. We cannot change it.
OLD BILL. A working husband is no husband at all. When I had to work, my wife was only my housekeeper: she saw next to nothing of me except when I came home at night hungry and tired and dirty. When I did nothing but send telegrams to my stockbroker--I dont call that work--and buy fancy waistcoats and diamond cravat pins, she began to enjoy her marriage and love me. And long as she has been dead now, I have never been unfaithful to her, nor ever shall be.
JUNIUS. But you married again.
OLD BILL. It was not the same thing. I wanted more children because I was so fond of the one I had. But it was not the same.
JUNIUS. Did you never think of bettering the world with your money?
OLD BILL. What the devil do I care about the world? What did it care about me when I was poor? Dont talk your world bettering cant to me if we are to get on together. I am not going to buy any of your shares.
JUNIUS. I apologize. My shares pay no dividends. I will not pursue the subject. When are we to get married? Name the day.
OLD BILL. Dont frighten her. When she names it, you will be frightened.
JUNIUS. I am frightened already. But we must dare. By the way, where shall we live? Not in Panama, I hope.
SHE. No. In Panama I should be nervous about you when you were out of my sight. You cannot charm the rattlers and gaters as I can.
JUNIUS. Why not? I can learn the saxophone.
SHE. True; but we should be out of reach of Daddy. We shall live in Park Lane.
JUNIUS. You know, of course, that there are plenty of rattlers and gaters of the human variety in Park Lane?
SHE. Yes; and you may be one of them.
JUNIUS. You have an answer for everything. What a prospect for me!
SHE. We are both taking chances. We shall live where I like.
JUNIUS. Or where I like. I can assert myself.
SHE. So can I. We shall see which of us wins. Stop chattering; and go out and buy a marriage licence.
JUNIUS [taken aback] Oh, I say! This is very sudden.
OLD BILL. Frightened, eh? Go. Get it over. You will have to arrange for two witnesses.
JUNIUS. I wish I could arrange for an anesthetist. The operation is terrifying.
SHE. Dont forget to buy a wedding ring. Have you money enough?
JUNIUS. I have what is left of the thousand pounds my father started me with. Panama made a big hole in it.
OLD BILL. Off with you, damn you. You are stealing my daughter from me. I hope she will soon tire of you and come back to me. [To Her] Give him one of your rings to get the fit right. Never mind the witnesses: Tom and Dick will do.
JUNIUS [to Her] Wouldnt you like to be married in church and have the banns called? That would give us three weeks to think it over.
SHE. No. Now or never.
JUNIUS. I am being rushed.
OLD BILL. You will spend your life being rushed if you live with Babz. Better get used to it at once.
SHE. A ring that will fit your middle finger will be big enough for my third. I have bigger hands. I was brought up to use them. You werent.
JUNIUS. You must put up with that. My hands are those of a philosopher: yours of a charwoman. Oh, why, WHY am I infatuated with you? I know so many apparently superior women.
SHE. Same here. Daddy is worth ten of you.
JUNIUS. You think so. But if you only knew how quickly I can lose money. He can only make it.
OLD BILL. Leave me out of it: I shall not last much longer: you have a lifetime to give her. Away with you to the registry office and stop talking.
JUNIUS. I go. But I'm not sure I shall ever come back. [He goes out].
SHE. I half hope he wont.
JUNIUS [coming back] By the way, whats your Christian name?
SHE. Clementina Alexandra.
JUNIUS. Righto! [Making a note of it] Cle-Men-Tina Alexandra. [He goes].
SHE [throwing her arms round Old Bill's neck and kissing him] Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
The Native comes in and closes the door carefully. Babz quickly releases her father.
THE NATIVE [to Her] Sir Flopper, the illustrious law servant of God, has waited until your venerable father is disengaged. May he enter?
OLD BILL. Yes. Shew him in.
THE NATIVE [looks to Her for confirmation]??
SHE. Yes. Shew him in.
THE NATIVE [throwing the door open] Enter, Excellency.
Sir Ferdinand comes in. The Native withdraws.
SIR FERDINAND [to Old Bill] Pardon. I thought you were alone.
OLD BILL. Get out, Babzy.
SHE. Au revoir, Sir Ferdinand.
He opens the door for her and bows gravely as she passes out, then closes the door, and, after an inviting gesture from Old Bill, sits down in the chair vacated by her.
SIR FERDINAND. First let me say that I am not here professionally.
OLD BILL. Why not? You must live.
SIR FERDINAND. My reason is that I am totally incapable of advising you on the subject of your extraordinary family. They are outside my experience. If I were a medical adviser I should certify them as insane.
OLD BILL. And me?
SIR FERDINAND. Well, hardly yet. Your instructions were rational enough. I put your financial case before your sons as you desired. I was interrupted by the arrival from America of the lady who has just left us. I was interrupted again by the arrival of a young man who proposed to marry her for her money. Your daughter made no objection: she seemed to prefer it to a disinterested proposal. Your family did not demur. I am prepared to learn that you do not demur. In any other family he would have been kicked out of the house.
OLD BILL. I like the fellow.
SIR FERDINAND. Like the fellow! Like an impudent fortune hunter! In Heaven's name, why?
OLD BILL. He asks straight questions and gives straight answers. So does my daughter. I taught her to do it. It was all I could teach her. Didnt you notice it?
SIR FERDINAND. I did indeed. And I have come to tell you I can no longer act as your solicitor. My brother Cyril is a doctor, head of a mental hospital for incurables. He is the man you should consult. Lawyers are useless here.
OLD BILL. Come, come, Flopper! You know as well as I do that people who marry for money are happy together as often as other people. It is the love matches that break down because Providence wants sound children and does not care a snap of its fingers whether the parents are happy or not. It makes them mad about one another until the children are born, and then drops them like hot potatoes. Money guarantees comfort and what you call culture. Love guarantees nothing. I know this. You know it. My daughter knows it. The young man knows it. Are we mad because we act and speak accordingly? Are you sane because you pretend to be shocked by it? It is you who should go to the mental hospital.
SIR FERDINAND. That also is a matter for medical, not legal opinion. I will not discuss it. I have only to tell you that I explained to your second family as you instructed me, that the source of their incomes would dry up at your death, and they must then fend for themselves.
OLD BILL. Good. What did they say to that?
SIR FERDINAND. Nothing. I had to suggest that they should live by directorships founded on your reputation.
OLD BILL. Guinea pigs. No use: that game is up. The new Labor Government gives such jobs to superannuated Trade Union secretaries.
SIR FERDINAND. Then why have you not provided for your second family as you did for your first daughter?
OLD BILL. It is not the same. They dont belong to me as she does.
SIR FERDINAND. They will starve.
OLD BILL. No they wont. They can live on their wives' incomes. I took care of that.
SIR FERDINAND. Well, that is all I have to say. I shall accept no fees for it; but I shall be glad to keep up our acquaintance, if that will be agreeable to you.
OLD BILL. Why?
SIR FERDINAND. Pure curiosity.
OLD BILL. I dont believe you.
SIR FERDINAND [rising, offended] Do you accuse me of lying?
OLD BILL. Yes. There must be some attraction. Which woman is it? One of my sons' wives, eh?
SIR FERDINAND [sitting down again, deflated] Well, really! No: they are married women. You have two unmarried daughters.
OLD BILL. Darkie? I actually forgot Darkie. Think of that!
SIR FERDINAND. Do not misunderstand me. I am a bachelor, not a libertine. I want a daughter.
OLD BILL. Good. Ive always had an uneasy conscience about Darkie. Ive never been able to give her the affection Ive heaped on Babzy. She has never had a father. Take her; and be a father to her. Come as often as you please: you are one of the family now.
SIR FERDINAND. You take my breath away. This is too sudden. A minute ago I did not know why I wanted to keep on terms with you all. You have shoved it down my throat.
OLD BILL. That is the Buoyant way: it saves a lot of time. Now that you know, you had better stay to lunch.
SIR FERDINAND. No. I must go home and think it over. Never fear: I shall not back out.
Darkie comes in.
OLD BILL. Here she is. Telepathy. It runs in the family.
DARKIE. Oh! I beg your pardon. I did not know you were engaged. It is only to ask whether you will have asparagus or broad beans for lunch.
OLD BILL. Sparrowgrass? Yes: plenty of it. [She turns to go]. Wait a bit. Sir Ferdinand Flopper here has fallen for you. He wants to be your father.
DARKIE. I dont want a father. Ive never had a real father: I'm not accustomed to it. I'm only a housekeeper.
OLD BILL. Well, my child, you can have a real father now, a baronet. Try him. You can drop him if he doesnt suit. Somebody to spoil you as Ive spoilt Babzy.
DARKIE. I dont want to be spoilt. I like housekeeping; and I'm not sentimental. If I ever want to be spoilt I shall get married. I am sorry to disappoint you, Sir Ferdinand; but daughtering is a game I have no turn for.
SIR FERDINAND. I see. But at least youll not mind my keeping up my acquaintance with the family.
DARKIE. Not a bit. Let me know what you like to eat and drink: that is all. I must go now to see about father's lunch. Tata.
She goes out.
OLD BILL. Dumbfounded, eh?
SIR FERDINAND. Completely. What a house this is! She was not a bit surprised, though she was quite unprepared.
OLD BILL. We Buoyants are always prepared for the worst.
SIR FERDINAND. Or the best, I hope. My offer is hardly a misfortune, as I see it.
OLD BILL. It isnt. Dont fancy you have escaped her. She asked about your grub. She is glad to have one more to housekeep for. You may consider yourself adopted.
SIR FERDINAND. I am past considering anything.
OLD BILL. Youll get used to it.
SIR FERDINAND. Yes: I suppose I shall. The curious thing is, I am beginning to like it.
OLD BILL. Good. [Looking at his watch] I wonder whether that chap is coming back. He ought to be here by now.
The Widower enters.
THE WIDOWER. Look here, Ee Pee: the young man from Panama says he is going to be married to Clemmy. He wants me and Dick to be witnesses. Is that all right?
OLD BILL. Yes. Quite all right. Has he got the licence?
THE WIDOWER. Yes. And he has borrowed my wife's wedding ring for the ceremony. He was short of pocket money for a new one. The money for the licence cleaned him out.
OLD BILL. Then he has come back?
THE WIDOWER. Yes. A bit upset, naturally; but he means business.
OLD BILL. Good.
SIR FERDINAND. Excuse me: but what does Ee Pee mean? Esteemed Parent?
OLD BILL. No. Earthly Providence. Darkie's invention.
SIR FERDINAND. Ah! Precisely.
The youth Fiffy comes in.
FIFFY. Look here, Ee Pee. Clemmy and the man from Panama are going to marry. He has got the licence.
OLD BILL. Well, what is that to you, you young rip?
FIFFY. Only that the chap is a World Betterer. I thought you had enough of that from me.
OLD BILL. So I have. The pair of you want to better the world when you dont know enough of it to manage a fish and chips business.
FIFFY. True, O king. But we are needed in the world bettering business, not in fish and chips. Still, one World Betterer is enough in one family.
OLD BILL. Keep out of it then, you. You were born to talk and say nothing, to write and do nothing. That pays.
FIFFY. To make sure, I shall marry for money, as the Panama chap is doing. Dont you agree, Sir Ferdinand?
SIR FERDINAND. Yes, if you can find the lady. Dress better; and oil your hair.
Babzy comes back with her two stepsisters-in-law.
SHE. Dick, dear: shall I marry the man from Panama?
SECONDBORN. My dearest Clemmy: I cannot advise you. You must take chances; but they are not calculable mathematically. We have no figures to go on: the proportion of happy love marriages to happy marriages of convenience has never been counted.
MRS SECONDBORN. Do stop talking heartless nonsense, Dick. Has the man any means or expectations? Is he a gentleman? He speaks like a gentleman. He dresses like a gentleman. But he has not the feelings of a gentleman. He says things that no gentleman would dream of saying. That is all we know about him. Dont marry him, Clemmy.
SECONDBORN. My dear: she must take chances or not marry at all.
MRS SECONDBORN. Oh, bother your chances! Chances! Chances! Chances! You are always talking about chances. Talk sense.
SECONDBORN. You tell me so almost every day, dear. I took my chance when I married you. But I do not regret it. You are the stupidest woman on earth; but you are a part of my life.
MRS SECONDBORN. Well, ask Sir Ferdinand which of us is right. Clemmy has low tastes; but that is no reason why she should throw herself away on a nobody.
SIR FERDINAND. I do not think, Mr Buoyant, that you can treat this question altogether as a mathematical one. You must take account of feelings, passions, emotions, intuitions, instincts, as well as cold quantities and figures and logic.
SECONDBORN [rising to the occasion eloquently] And who dares say that mathematics and reasoning are not passions? Mathematic perception is the noblest of all the faculties! This cant about their being soulless, dead, inhuman mechanisms is contrary to the plainest facts of life and history. What has carried our minds farther than mathematical foresight? Who has done more for enlightenment and civilization than Giordano Bruno, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Rutherford, Einstein, all of them far seeing guessers carried away by the passion for measuring truth and knowledge that possessed and drove them? Will you set above this great passion the vulgar concupiscences of Don Juan and Casanova, and the romance of Beatrice and Francesca, of Irish Deirdre, the greatest bores in literature, mere names incidentally immortalized by a few lines in a great poem?
MRS THIRDBORN. They had hearts, Dick.
SECONDBORN. Hearts! What are hearts without brains? You mean that they had glands: pituitary glands, adrenal glands, thyroid glands, pouring hormones into their blood. Do you suppose that there is no mathematical hormone? Our anatomists have not yet discovered it; but it is there, undiscovered and invisible, pouring into our brains, controlled by our enzymes and catalysts as surely as our appetites for beef and brandy. La Rochefoucauld told you two centuries ago that though the appetite we call love is in everybody's mouth very few have ever experienced it. God is not Love: Love is not Enough: the appetite for more truth, more knowledge, for measurement and precision, is far more universal: even the dullest fools have some glimmer of it. My wife here never tires of playing bridge and solving crossword puzzles as she tires of housekeeping. Her love for me is very variable: it turns to hate in its terrible reactions. Mathematical passion alone has no reaction: our pleasure in it promises a development in which life will be an intellectual ecstasy surpassing the ecstasies of saints. Think of that, Clara. Take your chance, Clemmy. Forgive my prolixity. Ive done.
He flings himself back into his chair.
MRS SECONDBORN [humbled] Well, Dick, I will say that you are wonderful when you speak your piece, though I never understand a word. You must be the greatest man in the family: you always make me feel like a fool. I am proud of you. I may lose my temper sometimes; but I never hate you.
Darkie comes in.
OLD BILL. Ah! there you are. Youve missed something.
DARKIE. No: Ive been listening at the door.
FIFFY. By George, Dick, you were splendid. World bettering be damned! I shall qualify as a doctor and look for that hormone.
Junius comes in with the licence in his hand.
JUNIUS. Well, Ive come back after all. Here is the licence. Ive got the witnesses. Is it yes or no?
SHE. I suppose I must take my chance. Yes.
DARKIE. What I want to know is how many of you are staying for lunch.
The curtain falls and ends the play.
(Replies to a questionnaire by Stephen Winsten and Esmé Percy, in holograph facsimile. World Review, London, September 1949)
(1) Why did you call your new play a 'Comedy of No Manners' when this is the best-mannered play you have written? In Act I, father and son are exceptionally courteous.
They are not courteous. They are simply frank, which is the extremity of no manners. This takes the play out of the well category [sic] called Comedy of Manners.
(2) If, as the result of taxation, there will be no more wealthy folk, what will Worldbetterers do if they cannot marry 'for money'?
Just what they do at present when they cannot attract wealthy wives.
(3) All the wisdom seems to have been put into the mouths of native and Eastern. Have you given up hope on the Pinks?
Read the play again. The pink women are as wise as the yellow men; and none of the white men are nitwits. But east is east and west is west throughout.
(4) In Good King Charles Kneller seems to have the better of Newton in argument. Here, in Buoyant Billions, you go all out for the mathematician. Does it mean you have changed your mind?
I do not go all out for anybody or anything. I am a playwright, not a Soot or Whitewash doctrinaire. I give Newton his own point of view and Kneller his own also. There is neither change nor contradiction on my part.
(5) In Buoyant Billions it is the male who is the pursuing animal: a change from Man and Superman?
There is no pursuing animal in the play. There are two people who fall in love at first sight and are both terrified at finding themselves mad on the subject, and caught in a trap laid by the Life Force. Do you expect me to keep writing Man & Superman over and over again?
(6) Do you suggest that Buoyant's training of his children made it difficult for them to cope with changed circumstances?
No. It is difficult for everybody to cope with changed circumstances.
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