and I left the peg in.
BURGE-LUBIN. But I am so sorry.
THE NEGRESS [_sunnily: still busy with the scarf_] Why? It was my fault.
BURGE-LUBIN [_embarrassed_] Well - er - But I suppose you were used to it
THE NEGRESS. Your delicacy is very touching, Mr President. It would be
funny if it were not so unpleasant, because, like all white delicacy, it
is in the wrong place. How do you think this suits my complexion?
BURGE-LUBIN. How can any really vivid color go wrong with a black satin
skin? It is our women's wretched pale faces that have to be matched and
lighted. Yours is always right.
THE NEGRESS. Yes: it is a pity your white beauties have all the same
ashy faces, the same colorless drab, the same age. But look at their
beautiful noses and little lips! They are physically insipid: they have
no beauty: you cannot love them; but how elegant!
BURGE-LUBIN. Cant you find an official pretext for coming to see me?
Isnt it ridiculous that we have never met? It's so tantalizing to see
you and talk to you, and to know all the time that you are two hundred
miles away, and that I cant touch you?
THE NEGRESS. I cannot live on the East Coast: it is hard enough to keep
my blood warm here. Besides, my friend, it would not be safe. These
distant flirtations are very charming; and they teach self-control.
BURGE-LUBIN. Damn self-control! I want to hold you in my arms - to - [_the
negress snatches out the peg from the switchboard and vanishes. She
is still heard laughing_]. Black devil! [_He snatches out his peg
furiously: her laugh is no longer heard_]. Oh, these sex episodes! Why
can I not resist them? Disgraceful!
CONFUCIUS. I forgot. There is something for you to do this morning. You
have to go to the Record Office to receive the American barbarian.
BURGE-LUBIN. Confucius: once for all, I object to this Chinese habit of
describing white men as barbarians.
CONFUCIUS [_standing formally at the end of the table with his hands
palm to palm_] I make a mental note that you do not wish the Americans
to be described as barbarians.
BURGE-LUBIN. Not at all. The Americans are barbarians. But we are not. I
suppose the particular barbarian you are speaking of is the American who
has invented a means of breathing under water.
CONFUCIUS. He says he has invented such a method. For some reason which
is not intelligible in China, Englishmen always believe any statement
made by an American inventor, especially one who has never invented
anything. Therefore you believe this person and have given him a public
reception. Today the Record Office is entertaining him with a display of
the cinematographic records of all the eminent Englishmen who have lost
their lives by drowning since the cinema was invented. Why not go to see
it if you are at a loss for something to do?
BURGE-LUBIN. What earthly interest is there in looking at a moving
picture of a lot of people merely because they were drowned? If they had
had any sense, they would not have been drowned, probably.
CONFUCIUS. That is not so. It has never been noticed before; but the
Record Office has just made two remarkable discoveries about the public
men and women who have displayed extraordinary ability during the
past century. One is that they retained unusual youthfulness up to an
advanced age. The other is that they all met their death by drowning.
BURGE-LUBIN. Yes: I know. Can you explain it?
CONFUCIUS. It cannot be explained. It is not reasonable. Therefore I do
not believe it.
_The Accountant General rushes in, looking ghastly. He staggers to the
middle of the table._
BURGE-LUBIN. Whats the matter? Are you ill?
BARNABAS [_choking_] No. I - [_he collapses into the middle chair_]. I
must speak to you in private.
_Confucius calmly withdraws._
BURGE-LUBIN. What on earth is it? Have some oxygen.
BARNABAS. I have had some. Go to the Record Office. You will see men
fainting there again and again, and being revived with oxygen, as I have
been. They have seen with their own eyes as I have.
BURGE-LUBIN. Seen what?
BARNABAS. Seen the Archbishop of York.
BURGE-LUBIN. Well, why shouldn't they see the Archbishop of York? What
are they fainting for? Has he been murdered?
BARNABAS. No: he has been drowned.
BURGE-LUBIN. Good God! Where? When? How? Poor fellow!
BARNABAS. Poor fellow! Poor thief! Poor swindler! Poor robber of his
country's Exchequer! Poor fellow indeed! Wait til I catch him.
BURGE-LUBIN. How can you catch him when he is dead? Youre mad.
BARNABAS. Dead! Who said he was dead?
BURGE-LUBIN. You did. Drowned.
BARNABAS [_exasperated_] Will you listen to me? Was old Archbishop
Haslam, the present man's last predecessor but four, drowned or not?
BURGE-LUBIN. I don't know. Look him up in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
BARNABAS. Yah! Was Archbishop Stickit, who wrote Stickit on the Psalms,
drowned or not?
BURGE-LUBIN. Yes, mercifully. He deserved it.
BARNABAS. Was President Dickenson drowned? Was General Bullyboy drowned?
BURGE-LUBIN. Who is denying it?
BARNABAS. Well, wave had moving pictures of all four put on the screen
today for this American; and they and the Archbishop are the same man.
Now tell me I am mad.
BURGE-LUBIN. I do tell you you are mad. Stark raving mad.
BARNABAS. Am I to believe my own eyes or am I not?
BURGE-LUBIN. You can do as you please. All I can tell you is that _I_
don't believe your eyes if they cant see any difference between a live
archbishop and two dead ones. [_The apparatus rings, he holds the button
THE WOMAN'S VOICE. The Archbishop of York, to see the President.
BARNABAS [_hoarse with rage_] Have him in. I'll talk to the scoundrel.
BURGE-LUBIN [_releasing the button_] Not while you are in this state.
BARNABAS [_reaching furiously for his button and holding it down_] Send
the Archbishop in at once.
BURGE-LUBIN. If you lose your temper, Barnabas, remember that we shall
be two to one.
_The Archbishop enters. He has a white band round his throat, set in a
black stock. He wears a sort of kilt of black ribbons, and soft black
boots that button high up on his calves. His costume does not differ
otherwise from that of the President and the Accountant General; but
its color scheme is black and white. He is older than the Reverend Bill
Haslam was when he wooed Miss Savvy Barnabas; but he is recognizably the
same man. He does not look a day over fifty, and is very well preserved
even at that; but his boyishness of manner is quite gone: he now has
complete authority and self-possession: in fact the President is a
little afraid of him; and it seems quite natural and inevitable that he
should speak fast._
THE ARCHBISHOP. Good day, Mr President.
BURGE-LUBIN. Good day, Mr Archbishop. Be seated.
THE ARCHBISHOP [_sitting down between them_] Good day, Mr Accountant
BARNABAS [_malevolently_] Good day to you. I have a question to put to
you, if you don't mind.
THE ARCHBISHOP [_looking curiously at him, jarred by his uncivil tone_]
Certainly. What is it?
BARNABAS. What is your definition of a thief?
THE ARCHBISHOP. Rather an old-fashioned word, is it not?
BARNABAS. It survives officially in my department.
THE ARCHBISHOP. Our departments are full of survivals. Look at my tie!
my apron! my boots! They are all mere survivals; yet it seems that
without them I cannot be a proper Archbishop.
BARNABAS. Indeed! Well, in my department the word thief survives,
because in the community the thing thief survives. And a very despicable
and dishonorable thing he is, too.
THE ARCHBISHOP [_coolly_] I daresay.
BARNABAS. In my department, sir, a thief is a person who lives longer
than the statutory expectation of life entitles him to, and goes on
drawing public money when, if he were an honest man, he would be dead.
THE ARCHBISHOP. Then let me say, sir, that your department does not
understand its own business. If you have miscalculated the duration of
human life, that is not the fault of the persons whose longevity you
have miscalculated. And if they continue to work and produce, they pay
their way, even if they live two or three centuries.
BARNABAS. I know nothing about their working and producing. That is not
the business of my department. I am concerned with their expectation of
life; and I say that no man has any right to go on living and drawing
money when he ought to be dead.
THE ARCHBISHOP. You do not comprehend the relation between income and
BARNABAS. I understand my own department.
THE ARCHBISHOP. That is not enough. Your department is part of a
synthesis which embraces all the departments.
BURGE-LUBIN. Synthesis! This is an intellectual difficulty. This is a
job for Confucius. I heard him use that very word the other day; and I
wondered what the devil he meant. [_Switching on_] Hallo! Put me through
to the Chief Secretary.
CONFUCIUS'S VOICE. You are speaking to him.
BURGE-LUBIN. An intellectual difficulty, old man. Something we don't
understand. Come and help us out.
THE ARCHBISHOP. May I ask how the question has arisen?
BARNABAS. Ah! You begin to smell a rat, do you? You thought yourself
pretty safe. You -
BURGE-LUBIN. Steady, Barnabas. Dont be in a hurry.
THE ARCHBISHOP [_rising_] Good morning, Mr Chief Secretary.
BURGE-LUBIN [_rising in instinctive imitation of the Archbishop_] Honor
us by taking a seat, O sage.
CONFUCIUS. Ceremony is needless. [_He bows to the company, and takes the
chair at the foot of the table_].
_The President and the Archbishop resume their seats._
BURGE-LUBIN. We wish to put a case to you, Confucius. Suppose a man,
instead of conforming to the official estimate of his expectation of
life, were to live for more than two centuries and a half, would the
Accountant General be justified in calling him a thief?
CONFUCIUS. No. He would be justified in calling him a liar.
THE ARCHBISHOP. I think not, Mr Chief Secretary. What do you suppose my
BURGE-LUBIN. You don't look it. Forty-five; and young for your age.
THE ARCHBISHOP. My age is two hundred and eighty-three.
BARNABAS [_morosely triumphant_] Hmp! Mad, am I?
BURGE-LUBIN. Youre both mad. Excuse me, Archbishop; but this is getting
a bit - well -
THE ARCHBISHOP [_to Confucius_] Mr Chief Secretary: will you, to oblige
me, assume that I have lived nearly three centuries? As a hypothesis?
BURGE-LUBIN. What is a hypothesis?
CONFUCIUS. It does not matter. I understand. [To _the Archbishop_] Am I
to assume that you have lived in your ancestors, or by metempsychosis -
BURGE-LUBIN. Met - Emp - Sy - Good Lord! What a brain, Confucius! What a
THE ARCHBISHOP. Nothing of that kind. Assume in the ordinary sense that
I was born in the year 1887, and that I have worked continuously in one
profession or another since the year 1910. Am I a thief?
CONFUCIUS. I do not know. Was that one of your professions?
THE ARCHBISHOP. No. I have been nothing worse than an Archbishop, a
President, and a General.
BARNABAS. Has he or has he not robbed the Exchequer by drawing five or
six incomes when he was only entitled to one? Answer me that.
CONFUCIUS. Certainly not. The hypothesis is that he has worked
continuously since 1910. We are now in the year 2170. What is the
BARNABAS. Seventy-eight. Of course it's an average; and we don't mind a
man here and there going on to ninety, or even, as a curiosity, becoming
a centenarian. But I say that a man who goes beyond that is a swindler.
CONFUCIUS. Seventy-eight into two hundred and eighty-three goes more
than three and a half times. Your department owes the Archbishop two and
a half educations and three and a half retiring pensions.
BARNABAS. Stuff! How can that be?
CONFUCIUS. At what age do your people begin to work for the community?
BURGE-LUBIN. Three. They do certain things every day when they are
three. Just to break them in, you know. But they become self-supporting,
or nearly so, at thirteen.
CONFUCIUS. And at what age do they retire?
CONFUCIUS. That is, they do thirty years' work; and they receive
maintenance and education, without working, for thirteen years of
childhood and thirty-five years of superannuation, forty-eight years
in all, for each thirty years' work. The Archbishop has given you 260
years' work, and has received only one education and no superannuation.
You therefore owe him over 300 years of leisure and nearly eight
educations. You are thus heavily in his debt. In other words, he has
effected an enormous national economy by living so long; and you, by
living only seventy-eight years, are profiting at his expense. He is the
benefactor: you are the thief. [_Half rising_] May I now withdraw and
return to my serious business, as my own span is comparatively short?
BURGE-LUBIN. Dont be in a hurry, old chap. [_Confucius sits down
again_]. This hypothecary, or whatever you call it, is put up seriously.
I don't believe it; but if the Archbishop and the Accountant General are
going to insist that it's true, we shall have either to lock them up or
to see the thing through.
BARNABAS. It's no use trying these Chinese subtleties on me. I'm a plain
man; and though I don't understand metaphysics, and don't believe in
them, I understand figures; and if the Archbishop is only entitled to
seventy-eight years, and he takes 283, I say he takes more than he is
entitled to. Get over that if you can.
THE ARCHBISHOP. I have not taken 283 years: I have taken 23 and given
CONFUCIUS. Do your accounts shew a deficiency or a surplus?
BARNABAS. A surplus. Thats what I cant make out. Thats the artfulness of
BURGE-LUBIN. That settles it. Whats the use of arguing? The Chink says
you are wrong; and theres an end of it.
BARNABAS. I say nothing against the Chink's arguments. But what about my
CONFUCIUS. If your facts include a case of a man living 283 years, I
advise you to take a few weeks at the seaside.
BARNABAS. Let there be an end of this hinting that I am out of my mind.
Come and look at the cinema record. I tell you this man is Archbishop
Haslam, Archbishop Stickit, President Dickenson, General Bullyboy and
himself into the bargain; all five of them.
THE ARCHBISHOP. I do not deny it. I never have denied it. Nobody has
ever asked me.
BURGE-LUBIN. But damn it, man - I beg your pardon, Archbishop; but
really, really -
THE ARCHBISHOP. Dont mention it. What were you going to say?
BURGE-LUBIN. Well, you were drowned four times over. You are not a cat,
THE ARCHBISHOP. That is very easy to understand. Consider my situation
when I first made the amazing discovery that I was destined to live
three hundred years! I -
CONFUCIUS [_interrupting him_] Pardon me. Such a discovery was
impossible. You have not made it yet. You may live a million years
if you have already lived two hundred. There is no question of three
hundred years. You have made a slip at the very beginning of your fairy
tale, Mr Archbishop.
BURGE-LUBIN. Good, Confucius! [_To the Archbishop_] He has you there. I
don't see how you can get over that.
THE ARCHBISHOP. Yes: it is quite a good point. But if the Accountant
General will go to the British Museum library, and search the catalogue,
he will find under his own name a curious and now forgotten book, dated
1924, entitled The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas. That gospel was that
men must live three hundred years if civilization is to be saved. It
shewed that this extension of individual human life was possible, and
how it was likely to come about. I married the daughter of one of the
BARNABAS. Do you mean to say you claim to be a connection of mine?
THE ARCHBISHOP. I claim nothing. As I have by this time perhaps three or
four million cousins of one degree or another, I have ceased to call on
BURGE-LUBIN. Gracious heavens! Four million relatives! Is that
calculation correct, Confucius?
CONFUCIUS. In China it might be forty millions if there were no checks
BURGE-LUBIN. This is a staggerer. It brings home to one - but
[_recovering_] it isnt true, you know. Let us keep sane.
CONFUCIUS [_to the Archbishop_] You wish us to understand that the
illustrious ancestors of the Accountant General communicated to you a
secret by which you could attain the age of three hundred years.
THE ARCHBISHOP. No. Nothing of the kind. They simply believed that
mankind could live any length of time it knew to be absolutely necessary
to save civilization from extinction. I did not share their belief: at
least I was not conscious of sharing it: I thought I was only amused by
it. To me my father-in-law and his brother were a pair of clever
cranks who had talked one another into a fixed idea which had become a
monomania with them. It was not until I got into serious difficulties
with the pension authorities after turning seventy that I began to
suspect the truth.
CONFUCIUS. The truth?
THE ARCHBISHOP. Yes, Mr Chief Secretary: the truth. Like all
revolutionary truths, it began as a joke. As I shewed no signs of ageing
after forty-five, my wife used to make fun of me by saying that I was
certainly going to live three hundred years. She was sixty-eight when
she died; and the last thing she said to me, as I sat by her bedside
holding her hand, was 'Bill: you really don't look fifty. I wonder - '
She broke off, and fell asleep wondering, and never awoke. Then I began
to wonder too. That is the explanation of the three hundred years, Mr
CONFUCIUS. It is very ingenious, Mr Archbishop. And very well told.
BURGE-LUBIN. Of course you understand that _I_ don't for a moment
suggest the very faintest doubt of your absolute veracity, Archbishop.
You know that, don't you?
THE ARCHBISHOP. Quite, Mr President. Only you don't believe me: that is
all. I do not expect you to. In your place I should not believe. You had
better have a look at the films. [_Pointing to the Accountant General_]
BURGE-LUBIN. But the drowning? What about the drowning? A man might get
drowned once, or even twice if he was exceptionally careless. But he
couldn't be drowned four times. He would run away from water like a mad
THE ARCHBISHOP. Perhaps Mr Chief Secretary can guess the explanation of
CONFUCIUS. To keep your secret, you had to die.
BURGE-LUBIN. But dash it all, man, he isn't dead.
CONFUCIUS. It is socially impossible not to do what everybody else does.
One must die at the usual time.
BARNABAS. Of course. A simple point of honour.
CONFUCIUS. Not at all. A simple necessity.
BURGE-LUBIN. Well, I'm hanged if I see it. I should jolly well live for
ever if I could.
THE ARCHBISHOP. It is not so easy as you think. You, Mr Chief Secretary,
have grasped the difficulties of the position. Let me remind you,
Mr President, that I was over eighty before the 1969 Act for the
Redistribution of Income entitled me to a handsome retiring pension.
Owing to my youthful appearance I was prosecuted for attempting to
obtain public money on false pretences when I claimed it. I could prove
nothing; for the register of my birth had been blown to pieces by a bomb
dropped on a village church years before in the first of the big modern
wars. I was ordered back to work as a man of forty, and had to work for
fifteen years more, the retiring age being then fifty-five.
BURGE-LUBIN. As late as fifty-five! How did people stand it?
THE ARCHBISHOP. They made difficulties about letting me go even then, I
still looked so young. For some years I was in continual trouble. The
industrial police rounded me up again and again, refusing to believe
that I was over age. They began to call me The Wandering Jew. You see
how impossible my position was. I foresaw that in twenty years more my
official record would prove me to be seventy-five; my appearance would
make it impossible to believe that I was more than forty-five; and my
real age would be one hundred and seventeen. What was I to do? Bleach
my hair? Hobble about on two sticks? Mimic the voice of a centenarian?
Better have killed myself.
BARNABAS. You ought to have killed yourself. As an honest man you were
entitled to no more than an honest man's expectation of life.
THE ARCHBISHOP. I did kill myself. It was quite easy. I left a suit of
clothes by the seashore during the bathing season, with documents in the
pockets to identify me. I then turned up in a strange place, pretending
that I had lost my memory, and did not know my name or my age or
anything about myself. Under treatment I recovered my health, but not my
memory. I have had several careers since I began this routine of life
and death. I have been an archbishop three times. When I persuaded
the authorities to knock down all our towns and rebuild them from the
foundations, or move them, I went into the artillery, and became a
general. I have been President.
THE ARCHBISHOP. Yes.
BURGE-LUBIN. But they found Dickenson's body: its ashes are buried in St
THE ARCHBISHOP. They almost always found the body. During the bathing
season there are plenty of bodies. I have been cremated again and again.
At first I used to attend my own funeral in disguise, because I had read
about a man doing that in an old romance by an author named Bennett,
from whom I remember borrowing five pounds in 1912. But I got tired of
that. I would not cross the street now to read my latest epitaph.
_The Chief Secretary and the President look very glum. Their incredulity
is vanquished at last._
BURGE-LUBIN. Look here. Do you chaps realize how awful this is? Here we
are sitting calmly in the presence of a man whose death is overdue by
two centuries. He may crumble into dust before our eyes at any moment.
BARNABAS. Not he. He'll go on drawing his pension until the end of the
THE ARCHBISHOP. Not quite that. My expectation of life is only three
BARNABAS. You will last out my time anyhow: that's enough for me.
THE ARCHBISHOP [_coolly_] How do you know?
BARNABAS [_taken aback_] How do I know!
THE ARCHBISHOP. Yes: how do you know? I did not begin even to suspect
until I was nearly seventy. I was only vain of my youthful appearance.
I was not quite serious about it until I was ninety. Even now I am not
sure from one moment to another, though I have given you my reason
for thinking that I have quite unintentionally committed myself to a
lifetime of three hundred years.
BURGE-LUBIN. But how do you do it? Is it lemons? Is it Soya beans? Is
THE ARCHBISHOP. I do not do it. It happens. It may happen to anyone. It
may happen to you.
BURGE-LUBIN [_the full significance of this for himself dawning on him_]
Then we three may be in the same boat with you, for all we know?
THE ARCHBISHOP. You may. Therefore I advise you to be very careful how
you take any step that will make my position uncomfortable.
BURGE-LUBIN. Well, I'm dashed! One of my secretaries was remarking
only this morning how well and young I am looking. Barnabas: I have an
absolute conviction that I am one of the - the - shall I say one of the
victims? - of this strange destiny.
THE ARCHBISHOP. Your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather
formed the same conviction when he was between sixty and seventy. I knew
BURGE-LUBIN [_depressed_] Ah! But he died.
THE ARCHBISHOP. No.
BURGE-LUBIN [_hopefully_] Do you mean to say he is still alive?
THE ARCHBISHOP. No. He was shot. Under the influence of his belief that
he was going to live three hundred years he became a changed man. He
began to tell people the truth; and they disliked it so much that they
took advantage of certain clauses of an Act of Parliament he had himself
passed during the Four Years War, and had purposely forgotten to repeal
afterwards. They took him to the Tower of London and shot him.
_The apparatus rings._
CONFUCIUS [_answering_] Yes? [_He listens_].
A WOMAN'S VOICE. The Domestic Minister has called.
BURGE-LUBIN [_not quite catching the answer_] Who does she say has
CONFUCIUS. The Domestic Minister.
BARNABAS. Oh, dash it! That awful woman!
BURGE-LUBIN. She certainly is a bit of a terror. I don't exactly know
why; for she is not at all bad-looking.
BARNABAS [_out of patience_] For Heaven's sake, don't be frivolous.
THE ARCHBISHOP. He cannot help it, Mr Accountant General. Three of his
sixteen great-great-great-grandfathers married Lubins.
BURGE-LUBIN. Tut tut! I am not frivolling. _I_ did not ask the lady