Buoyant Billions/Act III
|Act II. A Jungle Clearing in Panama. The Adventure|| Buoyant Billions
written by George Bernard Shaw
|Act IV. The Same. The End|
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
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.