George Bernard Shaw.

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into the temple._

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOO. Much we care for his anger!

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOO. Serve him right! War God indeed!

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

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

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

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

THE ENVOY [_aghast_] Destroying us!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL [_reverently_] Hail!

ZOZIM. Are ye prepared?

THE ENVOY. We are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOZIM. The old uns prefer Mahometans.

THE ENVOY [_shocked_] What!

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

THE ENVOY. Well, of all the disgraceful -

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

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

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

ZOZIM. What is a Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOZIM [_with a shrug_] Discouragement!

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

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

ZOO. Come. The oracle is ready.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WIFE. How awful!

ZOO. I'm glad you think so.

THE WIFE. Oh dear! Dont you think so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_The two men kneel._

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

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 21 of 26)