George Bernard Shaw.

Back to Methuselah online

. (page 16 of 26)
Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 16 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

here. Which of you did?

CONFUCIUS. It is her official duty to report personally to the President
once a quarter.

BURGE-LUBIN. Oh, that. Then I suppose it's my official duty to receive
her. Theyd better send her in. You don't mind, do you? She will bring us
back to real life. I don't know how you fellows feel; but I'm just going

CONFUCIUS [_into the telephone_] The President will receive the Domestic
Minister at once.

_They watch the door in silence for the entrance of the Domestic

BURGE-LUBIN [_suddenly, to the Archbishop_] I suppose you have been
married over and over again.

THE ARCHBISHOP. Once. You do not make vows until death when death is
three hundred years off.

_They relapse into uneasy silence. The Domestic Minister enters. She is
a handsome woman, apparently in the prime of life, with elegant, tense,
well held-up figure, and the walk of a goddess. Her expression and
deportment are grave, swift, decisive, awful, unanswerable. She wears a
Dianesque tunic instead of a blouse, and a silver coronet instead of a
gold fillet. Her dress otherwise is not markedly different from that
of the men, who rise as she enters, and incline their heads with
instinctive awe. She comes to the vacant chair between Barnabas and

BURGE-LUBIN [_resolutely genial and gallant_] Delighted to see you, Mrs

CONFUCIUS. We are honored by your celestial presence.

BARNABAS. Good day, madam.

THE ARCHBISHOP. I have not had the pleasure of meeting you before. I am
the Archbishop of York.

MRS LUTESTRING. Surely we have met, Mr Archbishop. I remember your face.
We - [_she checks herself suddenly_] Ah, no: I remember now: it was
someone else. [_She sits down_]. They all sit down.

THE ARCHBISHOP [_also puzzled_] Are you sure you are mistaken? I also
have some association with your face, Mrs Lutestring. Something like a
door opening continually and revealing you. And a smile of welcome when
you recognized me. Did you ever open a door for me, I wonder?

MRS LUTESTRING. I often opened a door for the person you have just
reminded me of. But he has been dead many years. The rest, except the
Archbishop, look at one another quickly.

CONFUCIUS. May I ask how many years?

MRS LUTESTRING [_struck by his tone, looks at him for a moment with some
displeasure; then replies_] It does not matter. A long time.

BURGE-LUBIN. You mustnt rush to conclusions about the Archbishop, Mrs
Lutestring. He is an older bird than you think. Older than you, at all

MRS LUTESTRING [_with a melancholy smile_] I think not, Mr President.
But the subject is a delicate one. I had rather not pursue it.

CONFUCIUS. There is a question which has not been asked.

MRS LUTESTRING [_very decisively_] If it is a question about my age, Mr
Chief Secretary, it had better not be asked. All that concerns you about
my personal affairs can be found in the books of the Accountant General.

CONFUCIUS. The question I was thinking of will not be addressed to you.
But let me say that your sensitiveness on the point is very strange,
coming from a woman so superior to all common weaknesses as we know you
to be.

MRS LUTESTRING. I may have reasons which have nothing to do with common
weaknesses, Mr Chief Secretary. I hope you will respect them.

CONFUCIUS [_after bowing to her in assent_] I will now put my question.
Have you, Mr Archbishop, any ground for assuming, as you seem to do,
that what has happened to you has not happened to other people as well?

BURGE-LUBIN. Yes, by George! I never thought of that.

THE ARCHBISHOP. I have never met any case but my own.

CONFUCIUS. How do you know?

THE ARCHBISHOP. Well, no one has ever told me that they were in this
extraordinary position.

CONFUCIUS. That proves nothing. Did you ever tell anybody that you were
in it? You never told us. Why did you never tell us?

THE ARCHBISHOP. I am surprised at the question, coming from so astute a
mind as yours, Mr Secretary. When you reach the age I reached before I
discovered what was happening to me, I was old enough to know and fear
the ferocious hatred with which human animals, like all other animals,
turn upon any unhappy individual who has the misfortune to be unlike
themselves in every respect: to be unnatural, as they call it. You will
still find, among the tales of that twentieth-century classic, Wells,
a story of a race of men who grew twice as big as their fellows, and
another story of a man who fell into the hands of a race of blind men.
The big people had to fight the little people for their lives; and the
man with eyes would have had his eyes put out by the blind had he not
fled to the desert, where he perished miserably. Wells's teaching, on
that and other matters, was not lost on me. By the way, he lent me five
pounds once which I never repaid; and it still troubles my conscience.

CONFUCIUS. And were you the only reader of Wells? If there were others
like you, had they not the same reason for keeping the secret?

THE ARCHBISHOP. That is true. But I should know. You short-lived people
are so childish. If I met a man of my own age I should recognize him at
once. I have never done so.

MRS LUTESTRING. Would you recognize a woman of your age, do you think?

THE ARCHBISHOP. I - [_He stops and turns upon her with a searching look,
startled by the suggestion and the suspicion it rouses_].

MRS LUTESTRING. What is your age, Mr Archbishop?

BURGE-LUBIN. Two hundred and eighty-three, he says. That is his little
joke. Do you know, Mrs Lutestring, he had almost talked us into
believing him when you came in and cleared the air with your robust
common sense.

MRS LUTESTRING. Do you really feel that, Mr President? I hear the note
of breezy assertion in your voice. I miss the note of conviction.

BURGE-LUBIN [_jumping up_] Look here. Let us stop talking damned
nonsense. I don't wish to be disagreeable; but it's getting on my
nerves. The best joke won't bear being pushed beyond a certain point.
That point has been reached. I - I'm rather busy this morning. We all
have our hands pretty full. Confucius here will tell you that I have a
heavy day before me.

BARNABAS. Have you anything more important than this thing, if it's

BURGE-LUBIN. Oh, if if, if it's true! But it isn't true.

BARNABAS. Have you anything at all to do?

BURGE-LUBIN. Anything to do! Have you forgotten, Barnabas, that I happen
to be President, and that the weight of the entire public business of
this country is on my shoulders?

BARNABAS. Has he anything to do, Confucius?

CONFUCIUS. He has to be President.

BARNABAS. That means that he has nothing to do.

BURGE-LUBIN [_sulkily_] Very well, Barnabas. Go on making a fool of
yourself. [_He sits down_]. Go on.

BARNABAS. I am not going to leave this room until we get to the bottom
of this swindle.

MRS LUTESTRING [_turning with deadly gravity on the Accountant General_]
This what, did you say?

CONFUCIUS. These expressions cannot be sustained. You obscure the
discussion in using them.

BARNABAS [_glad to escape from her gaze by addressing Confucius_] Well,
this unnatural horror. Will that satisfy you?

CONFUCIUS. That is in order. But we do not commit ourselves to the
implications of the word horror.

THE ARCHBISHOP. By the word horror the Accountant General means only
something unusual.

CONFUCIUS. I notice that the honorable Domestic Minister, on learning
the advanced age of the venerable prelate, shews no sign of surprise or

BURGE-LUBIN. She doesn't take it seriously. Who would? Eh, Mrs

MRS LUTESTRING. I take it very seriously indeed, Mr President. I see now
that I was not mistaken at first. I have met the Archbishop before.

THE ARCHBISHOP. I felt sure of it. This vision of a door opening to me,
and a woman's face welcoming me, must be a reminiscence of something
that really happened; though I see it now as an angel opening the gate
of heaven.

MRS LUTESTRING. Or a parlor maid opening the door of the house of the
young woman you were in love with?

THE ARCHBISHOP [_making a wry face_] Is that the reality? How these
things grow in our imagination! But may I say, Mrs Lutestring, that the
transfiguration of a parlor maid to an angel is not more amazing than
her transfiguration to the very dignified and able Domestic Minister I
am addressing. I recognize the angel in you. Frankly, I do not recognize
the parlor maid.

BURGE-LUBIN. Whats a parlor maid?

MRS LUTESTRING. An extinct species. A woman in a black dress and white
apron, who opened the house door when people knocked or rang, and was
either your tyrant or your slave. I was a parlor maid in the house of
one of the Accountant General's remote ancestors. [_To Confucius_] You
asked me my age, Mr Chief Secretary, I am two hundred and seventy-four.

BURGE-LUBIN [_gallantly_] You don't look it. You really don't look it.

MRS LUTESTRING [_turning her face gravely towards him_] Look again, Mr

BURGE-LUBIN [_looking at her bravely until the smile fades from his
face, and he suddenly covers his eyes with his hands_] Yes: you do
look it. I am convinced. It's true. Now call up the Lunatic Asylum,
Confucius; and tell them to send an ambulance for me.

MRS LUTESTRING [_to the Archbishop_] Why have you given away your
secret? our secret?

THE ARCHBISHOP. They found it out. The cinema records betrayed me. But I
never dreamt that there were others. Did you?

MRS LUTESTRING. I knew one other. She was a cook. She grew tired, and
killed herself.

THE ARCHBISHOP. Dear me! However, her death simplifies the situation, as
I have been able to convince these gentlemen that the matter had better
go no further.

MRS LUTESTRING. What! When the President knows! It will be all over the
place before the end of the week.

BURGE-LUBIN [_injured_] Really, Mrs Lutestring! You speak as if I were a
notoriously indiscreet person. Barnabas: have I such a reputation?

BARNABAS [_resignedly_] It cant be helped. It's constitutional.

CONFUCIUS. It is utterly unconstitutional. But, as you say, it cannot be

BURGE-LUBIN [_solemnly_] I deny that a secret of State has ever passed
my lips - except perhaps to the Minister of Health, who is discretion
personified. People think, because she is a negress -

MRS LUTESTRING. It does not matter much now. Once, it would have
mattered a great deal. But my children are all dead.

THE ARCHBISHOP. Yes: the children must have been a terrible difficulty.
Fortunately for me, I had none.

MRS LUTESTRING. There was one daughter who was the child of my very
heart. Some years after my first drowning I learnt that she had lost her
sight. I went to her. She was an old woman of ninety-six, blind. She
asked me to sit and talk with her because my voice was like the voice of
her dead mother.

BURGE-LUBIN. The complications must be frightful. Really I hardly know
whether I do want to live much longer than other people.

MRS LUTESTRING. You can always kill yourself, as cook did; but that
was influenza. Long life is complicated, and even terrible; but it is
glorious all the same. I would no more change places with an ordinary
woman than with a mayfly that lives only an hour.

THE ARCHBISHOP. What set you thinking of it first?

MRS LUTESTRING. Conrad Barnabas's book. Your wife told me it was more
wonderful than Napoleon's Book of Fate and Old Moore's Almanac, which
cook and I used to read. I was very ignorant: it did not seem so
impossible to me as to an educated woman. Yet I forgot all about it, and
married and drudged as a poor man's wife, and brought up children, and
looked twenty years older than I really was, until one day, long after
my husband died and my children were out in the world working for
themselves, I noticed that I looked twenty years younger than I really
was. The truth came to me in a flash.

BURGE-LUBIN. An amazing moment. Your feelings must have been beyond
description. What was your first thought?

MRS LUTESTRING. Pure terror. I saw that the little money I had laid up
would not last, and that I must go out and: work again. They had things
called Old Age Pensions then: miserable pittances for worn-out old
laborers to die on. I thought I should be found out if I went on drawing
it too long. The horror of facing another lifetime of drudgery, of
missing my hard-earned rest and losing my poor little savings, drove
everything else out of my mind. You people nowadays can have no
conception of the dread of poverty that hung over us then, or of the
utter tiredness of forty years' unending overwork and striving to make a
shilling do the work of a pound.

THE ARCHBISHOP. I wonder you did not kill yourself. I often wonder why
the poor in those evil old times did not kill themselves. They did not
even kill other people.

MRS LUTESTRING. You never kill yourself, because you always may as well
wait until tomorrow. And you have not energy or conviction enough to
kill the others. Besides, how can you blame them when you would do as
they do if you were in their place?

BURGE-LUBIN. Devilish poor consolation, that.

MRS LUTESTRING. There were other consolations in those days for people
like me. We drank preparations of alcohol to relieve the strain of
living and give us an artificial happiness.

BURGE-LUBIN {[[_all together,_]} Alcohol! CONFUCIUS {[_making_] } Pfff
...! BARNABAS {[_wry faces_]] } Disgusting.

MRS LUTESTRING. A little alcohol would improve your temper and manners,
and make you much easier to live with, Mr Accountant General.

BURGE-LUBIN [_laughing_] By George, I believe you! Try it, Barnabas.

CONFUCIUS. No. Try tea. It is the more civilized poison of the two.

MRS LUTESTRING. You, Mr President, were born intoxicated with your own
well-fed natural exuberance. You cannot imagine what alcohol was to an
underfed poor woman. I had carefully arranged my little savings so that
I could get drunk, as we called it, once a week; and my only pleasure
was looking forward to that poor little debauch. That is what saved
me from suicide. I could not bear to miss my next carouse. But when
I stopped working, and lived on my pension, the fatigue of my life's
drudgery began to wear off, because, you see, I was not really old. I
recuperated. I looked younger and younger. And at last I was rested
enough to have courage and strength to begin life again. Besides,
political changes were making it easier: life was a little better worth
living for the nine-tenths of the people who used to be mere drudges.
After that, I never turned back or faltered. My only regret now is that
I shall die when I am three hundred or thereabouts. There was only one
thing that made life hard; and that is gone now.

CONFUCIUS. May we ask what that was?

MRS LUTESTRING. Perhaps you will be offended if I tell you.

BURGE-LUBIN. Offended! My dear lady, do you suppose, after such
a stupendous revelation, that anything short of a blow from a
sledge-hammer could produce the smallest impression on any of us?

MRS LUTESTRING. Well, you see, it has been so hard on me never to meet a
grown-up person. You are all such children. And I never was very fond of
children, except that one girl who woke up the mother passion in me. I
have been very lonely sometimes.

BURGE-LUBIN [_again gallant_] But surely, Mrs Lutestring, that has been
your own fault. If I may say so, a lady of your attractions need never
have been lonely.


BURGE-LUBIN. Why! Well - . Well, er - . Well, er er - . Well! [_he gives it

THE ARCHBISHOP. He means that you might have married. Curious, how
little they understand our position.

MRS LUTESTRING. I did marry. I married again on my hundred and first
birthday. But of course I had to marry an elderly man: a man over sixty.
He was a great painter. On his deathbed he said to me 'It has taken me
fifty years to learn my trade, and to paint all the foolish pictures a
man must paint and get rid of before he comes through them to the
great things he ought to paint. And now that my foot is at last on the
threshold of the temple I find that it is also the threshold of my
tomb.' That man would have been the greatest painter of all time if he
could have lived as long as I. I saw him die of old age whilst he
was still, as he said himself, a gentleman amateur, like all modern

BURGE-LUBIN. But why had you to marry an elderly man? Why not marry a
young one? or shall I say a middle-aged one? If my own affections were
not already engaged; and if, to tell the truth, I were not a
little afraid of you - for you are a very superior woman, as we all
acknowledge - I should esteem myself happy in - er - er -

MRS LUTESTRING. Mr President: have you ever tried to take advantage of
the innocence of a little child for the gratification of your senses?

BURGE-LUBIN. Good Heavens, madam, what do you take me for? What right
have you to ask me such a question?

MRS LUTESTRING. I am at present in my two hundred and seventy-fifth
year. You suggest that I should take advantage of the innocence of a
child of thirty, and marry it.

THE ARCHBISHOP. Can you shortlived people not understand that as the
confusion and immaturity and primitive animalism in which we live for
the first hundred years of our life is worse in this matter of sex than
in any other, you are intolerable to us in that relation?

BURGE-LUBIN. Do you mean to say, Mrs Lutestring, that you regard me as a

MRS LUTESTRING. Do you expect me to regard you as a completed soul? Oh,
you may well be afraid of me. There are moments when your levity, your
ingratitude, your shallow jollity, make my gorge rise so against you
that if I could not remind myself that you are a child I should be
tempted to doubt your right to live at all.

CONFUCIUS. Do you grudge us the few years we have? you who have three

BURGE-LUBIN. You accuse me of levity! Must I remind you, madam, that I
am the President, and that you are only the head of a department?

BARNABAS. Ingratitude too! You draw a pension for three hundred years
when we owe you only seventy-eight; and you call us ungrateful!

MRS LUTESTRING. I do. When I think of the blessings that have been
showered on you, and contrast them with the poverty! the humiliations!
the anxieties! the heartbreak! the insolence and tyranny that were the
daily lot of mankind when I was learning to suffer instead of learning
to live! when I see how lightly you take it all! how you quarrel over
the crumpled leaves in your beds of roses! how you are so dainty about
your work that unless it is made either interesting or delightful to you
you leave it to negresses and Chinamen, I ask myself whether even
three hundred years of thought and experience can save you from being
superseded by the Power that created you and put you on your trial.

BURGE-LUBIN. My dear lady: our Chinese and colored friends are perfectly
happy. They are twenty times better off here than they would be in China
or Liberia. They do their work admirably; and in doing it they set us
free for higher employments.

THE ARCHBISHOP [_who has caught the infection of her indignation_] What
higher employments are you capable of? you that are superannuated at
seventy and dead at eighty!

MRS LUTESTRING. You are not really doing higher work. You are supposed
to make the decisions and give the orders; but the negresses and the
Chinese make up your minds for you and tell you what orders to give,
just as my brother, who was a sergeant in the Guards, used to prompt his
officers in the old days. When I want to get anything done at the Health
Ministry I do not come to you: I go to the black lady who has been the
real president during your present term of office, or to Confucius, who
goes on for ever while presidents come and presidents go.

BURGE-LUBIN. This is outrageous. This is treason to the white race. And
let me tell you, madam, that I have never in my life met the Minister
of Health, and that I protest against the vulgar color prejudice which
disparages her great ability and her eminent services to the State. My
relations with her are purely telephonic, gramophonic, photophonic, and,
may I add, platonic.

THE ARCHBISHOP. There is no reason why you should be ashamed of them in
any case, Mr President. But let us look at the position impersonally.
Can you deny that what is happening is that the English people have
become a Joint Stock Company admitting Asiatics and Africans as

BARNABAS. Nothing like it. I know all about the old joint stock
companies. The shareholders did no work.

THE ARCHBISHOP. That is true; but we, like them, get our dividends
whether we work or not. We work partly because we know there would be no
dividends if we did not, and partly because if we refuse we are regarded
as mentally deficient and put into a lethal chamber. But what do we work
at? Before the few changes we were forced to make by the revolutions
that followed the Four Years War, our governing classes had been so
rich, as it was called, that they had become the most intellectually
lazy and fat-headed people on the face of the earth. There is a good
deal of that fat still clinging to us.

BURGE-LUBIN. As President, I must not listen to unpatriotic criticisms
of our national character, Mr Archbishop.

THE ARCHBISHOP. As Archbishop, Mr President, it is my official duty to
criticize the national character unsparingly. At the canonization of
Saint Henrik Ibsen, you yourself unveiled the monument to him which
bears on its pedestal the noble inscription, 'I came not to call
sinners, but the righteous, to repentance.' The proof of what I say
is that our routine work, and what may be called our ornamental and
figure-head work, is being more and more sought after by the English;
whilst the thinking, organizing, calculating, directing work is done by
yellow brains, brown brains, and black brains, just as it was done in
my early days by Jewish brains, Scottish brains, Italian brains, German
brains. The only white men who still do serious work are those who, like
the Accountant General, have no capacity for enjoyment, and no social
gifts to make them welcome outside their offices.

BARNABAS. Confound your impudence! I had gifts enough to find you out,

THE ARCHBISHOP [_disregarding this outburst_] If you were to kill me as
I stand here, you would have to appoint an Indian to succeed me. I take
precedence today not as an Englishman, but as a man with more than a
century and a half of fully adult experience. We are letting all the
power slip into the hands of the colored people. In another hundred
years we shall be simply their household pets.

BURGE-LUBIN [_reacting buoyantly_] Not the least danger of it. I grant
you we leave the most troublesome part of the labor of the nation to
them. And a good job too: why should we drudge at it? But think of the
activities of our leisure! Is there a jollier place on earth to live
in than England out of office hours? And to whom do we owe that? To
ourselves, not to the niggers. The nigger and the Chink are all right
from Tuesday to Friday; but from Friday to Tuesday they are simply
nowhere; and the real life of England is from Friday to Tuesday.

THE ARCHBISHOP. That is terribly true. In devising brainless amusements;
in pursuing them with enormous vigor, and taking them with eager
seriousness, our English people are the wonder of the world. They always
were. And it is just as well; for otherwise their sensuality would
become morbid and destroy them. What appals me is that their amusements
should amuse them. They are the amusements of boys and girls. They
are pardonable up to the age of fifty or sixty: after that they are
ridiculous. I tell you, what is wrong with us is that we are a non-adult
race; and the Irish and the Scots, and the niggers and Chinks, as you
call them, though their lifetime is as short as ours, or shorter, yet do
somehow contrive to grow up a little before they die. We die in boyhood:
the maturity that should make us the greatest of all the nations lies
beyond the grave for us. Either we shall go under as greybeards with
golf clubs in our hands, or we must will to live longer.

MRS LUTESTRING. Yes: that is it. I could not have expressed it in words;
but you have expressed it for me. I felt, even when I was an ignorant
domestic slave, that we had the possibility of becoming a great nation
within us; but our faults and follies drove me to cynical hopelessness.
We all ended then like that. It is the highest creatures who take the
longest to mature, and are the most helpless during their immaturity. I

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 16 of 26)