Buoyant Billions/Act II

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Act I. A Study. The World Betterer Buoyant Billions
Act II
written by George Bernard Shaw
Act III. A Drawing-room in Belgrave Square. The Discussion

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.

HE. How?

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.