The Fascinating Foundling
| The Fascinating Foundling
A disgrace to the Author
written by George Bernard Shaw
|Written 1909, produced 1928, published 1926.|
Morning. Office of the Lord Chancellor. Door on the right leading to his private room, near the fireplace. Door on the left leading to the public staircase. Mercer, an elderly clerk, seated at work. Enter, to him, through the public door, Horace Brabazon, a smart and beautiful young man of nineteen, dressed in the extremity of fashion, with a walking stick.
BRABAZON. I want to see the Lord Chancellor.
MERCER. Have you an appointment?
MERCER. Then you cant see the Lord Chancellor.
BRABAZON. I tell you I must see him.
MERCER. I tell you you cant. Look here: do you think the Lord Chancellor's a palmist or a hair doctor that people can rush in out of the street and see him whenever they want to?
BRABAZON. That speech was meant to insult and humiliate me. I make it a rule to fight people who attempt to insult and humiliate me. [Throwing away his stick] Put up your hands. [He puts up his own].
MERCER. Here: you let me alone. You leave this office, d'ye hear; or I'll have the police in on you.
BRABAZON. You are face to face with your destiny; and your destiny is to fight me. Be quick: I'm going to begin. Dont look pale: I scorn to take you by surprise. I shall lead off with my left on your right eye. Put them up.
MERCER. I aint going to fight you. Let me alone, will you? I said nothing to you.
BRABAZON. Liar and slave. Fight, I tell you: fight.
MERCER. Oh, was there ever the like of this? Don't make such a noise.
BRABAZON. I'm making it on purpose. I want you to fight because itll make more noise than anything else. The Lord Chancellor will come to see what the noise is about if only it's loud enough. Time! [he spars].
MERCER [retreating to the fireplace and snatching up the poker] Ah, would you? You come near me, and I'll split your head open, I will.
BRABAZON [snatching up the tongs, and engaging him in a stage fight of the noisiest] Lay on, Macduff; and damned be he that first cries Hold! Enough!
The Lord Chancellor enters indignantly.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Whats this? Who is this gentleman?
BRABAZON. The Lord Chancellor. Good. [To Mercer] Hence, horrible shadow: unreal mockery, hence. My lord, I have called on professional business. In the matter of Brabazon, an infant.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. If you are a solicitor, sir, you must be aware that this is not the proper way to approach the Court.
BRABAZON. I approach you as the father of all the orphans in Chancery.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Sir—
BRABAZON. Dont fly out: I'll explain everything. You remember the matter of Brabazon, an infant. Come, now! frankly as man to man you do remember the matter of Brabazon, an infant.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. There is such a case, I believe.
BRABAZON. Of course there is. Well, I'm the infant. I'm Brabazon. I'll call thee Hamlet! King! father! Royal Dane: wilt thou not answer me? [Prosaically] Now you see, dont you?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. You are young Horace Brabazon, are you?
BRABAZON. I am, my lord. Such is life!
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. You are a ward of the Court; and you have systematically disobeyed every order made in your case.
BRABAZON. The orders were unreasonable. Fatuous, in fact.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Sir—
BRABAZON. Let me explain. One of the orders was that I was to go into the Church.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. At your own desire.
BRABAZON. Exactly. But I should not have been indulged. I was too young. How did I know what was good for me? I put it to you as one man to another: do I look like an archbishop?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Stuff, sir.
BRABAZON. As you say, nothing could have been more idiotic. You ought to have known better. No: the Church is not in my line. Nature intended me for the stage. The Unreal Mockery here was practising Macduff with me when you came in. Now what I want to know is, can you get me an engagement? As your ward, I have a right to expect that of you. You must know lots of people who could give me a start. And theres another thing: very important. I— Oh, by the way, wont you sit down? Excuse me keeping you standing all this time. Macduff: a chair.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR [with ironic politeness] You are too good. [He sits down].
BRABAZON. Dont mention it. Well, you know: I want some good home influence to steady me. You see you cant steady me: youre too much occupied here with your shop: besides, you may shake a loose leg yourself occasionally for all the public knows, eh? Even if you are virtuous, I should probably lead you astray. No: what I want is a wife. Not a young woman, you know. Someone old enough to be my mother: say thirty or so. I adore a mature woman. Not old enough to be your mother, you understand: old enough to be my mother. I attach some importance to that distinction; so be good enough to bear it in mind. One mustnt overdo these notions.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Mr Mercer, will you be good enough to make a careful note of this gentleman's requirements: an engagement at a leading theatre to play Macbeth, and a wife of quiet habits and grave disposition. Anything else, Mr Brabazon?
BRABAZON. Nothing today, thank you. And now, I know better than to take up the time of a busy man. Happy to have made your acquaintance. So long! Ta, ta, Macduff.
He goes out.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. What do you mean by letting this lunatic in, Mr Mercer? I'm extremely annoyed.
MERCER. I didnt let him in, my lord. He came in, I was keeping him from you at the risk of my life when you came in to ask what the noise was.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR [with emotion] My faithful Mercer.
MERCER. My honored master. [They shake hands, weeping].
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. We were happy together until this man came between us.
MERCER. Let us try to forget him, my lord. [Turns to his desk and sees Brabazon's walking stick on the floor] My lord, he has left his walking stick behind. He will return for it. Let us fly. [He picks it up and puts it on the desk].
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Nonsense, Mercer: we have no aeroplane; and if we had we shouldnt know how to use it. Hark! A visitor at the door. [They both rush to it. The handle is turned]. Tell him we have both gone out.
MERCER. Useless, my lord: he is a man of strong reasoning powers: he would conclude, on hearing our voices, that we were both within.
A WOMAN'S VOICE. Is anybody there? Let me in. [She rattles the door].
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. That is the voice of a young and probably beautiful woman.
MERCER. It is, my lord.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Then why the dickens dont you open the door instead of striking melodramatic attitudes? How dare you keep the lady waiting? I'm very much annoyed.
MERCER. I'm sorry, my lord. [He opens the door].
Anastasia Vulliamy enters.
ANASTASIA [to Mercer] Is this the Lord Chancellor's?
ANASTASIA. Sir Cardonius Boshington's?
MERCER. Yes, maam.
ANASTASIA. Are you the Lord Chancellor?
MERCER. No, maam. Leastways, not yet.
ANASTASIA. What are you?
MERCER. I'm the Lord Chancellor's--
MERCER. Well, hardly that, maam. If you ask me, I should say I was a sort of what you might call a clerk-valet to his lordship.
ANASTASIA. Are you a gentleman?
MERCER [staggered] Well, thats a poser, Miss, really. I'm in a manner of speaking a gentleman.
ANASTASIA. In what manner of speaking are you a gentleman?
MERCER. Well, Miss, I'm a gentleman to my tobacconist. Every man is a gentleman to his tobacconist. The parliamentary candidate for Hornsey always addresses me as a gentleman. But then he aint particular: leastways, not at election times. You see, Miss, there are three classes of gentry in this country.
ANASTASIA. Only three?
MERCER. Only three, maam.
ANASTASIA. How do you tell one from the other?
MERCER. You tell by the railway porters, Miss. The real upper class gives them a shilling; the upper middle class sixpence; and the lower middle, tuppence. I give tuppence myself.
ANASTASIA. And which particular class of gentleman is it, pray, that gives a lady a chair?
MERCER. Oh, I'm sure I beg your pardon, Miss. [He places a chair for her].
ANASTASIA. Thanks. And now will you be good enough to tell Sir Cardonius Boshington that Miss Anastasia Vulliamy wishes to see him?
MERCER [to the Lord Chancellor] Miss Anaesthesia Vulliamy, my lord, to see you.
ANASTASIA [springing up] Do you mean to tell me that this old man in livery is the great Chancellor?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. At your service, Miss Vulliamy.
ANASTASIA [producing a newspaper] Quite impossible. I have here an article on Sir Cardonius, headed Our Great Chancellor; and the description does not correspond in the least. [Reading] "No man of our time has succeeded in tempering the awe inspired by a commanding stature and majestic presence with a love and confidence which even the youngest and most timid ward of the Court feels at the sound of his kindly voice and the encouraging beam, twinkling with humor, of his tender grey eyes." Do you mean to tell me that thats you?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. It is not for me to say how far the description is an accurate or a happy one, madam; but I believe I am the person intended by the writer.
MERCER [producing another paper] Perhaps youd recognize this better, Miss. Sir Cardonius and me is on opposite sides in politics.
ANASTASIA [taking the paper and reading at the place he indicates] "How much longer will the nation allow this despicable pantaloon to occupy the woolsack--" Whats the woolsack?
MERCER. What the Lord Chancellor sits on in the House of Lords, Miss.
ANASTASIA [continuing her reading] "whose contents only too strongly resemble those of his own head." Thats a nasty one, you know: isnt it? It means that your brains are woolly, doesnt it?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Its meaning is entirely beneath my notice. I'm surprised, Mercer, to find you in possession of a scurrilous rag of this character. We may differ in our opinions; but if any paper taken in by me were to speak of you in such unbecoming terms, I should never open it again.
MERCER. Well, my lord; politics is politics; and after all, what is politics if it isnt shewing up the other side? When I pay a penny for a paper Ive a right to get value for my money the same as any other man.
ANASTASIA. But I dont understand. [To the Chancellor] Are you a despicable pantaloon? The other paper says your name will be cherished by the warm hearts of the English people when Eldon and Sir Thomas More are forgotten. I thought that whatever is in the papers must be true. How do you explain being a great Chancellor and a despicable pantaloon at the same time?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. I take it that the excellent journal from which you first quoted has put all considerations of party aside, and simply endeavored to place before you a dispassionate estimate of such modest services as I have been able to render to my country. The other paper gives you nothing but the vituperative ravings of an illiterate penny-a-liner blinded by party passion.
MERCER. You should never read more than one paper, Miss. It unsettles the mind, let alone the waste of a penny.
ANASTASIA. Well, it's a great relief to me to hear that the Great Chancellor paper is the right one. [To the Lord Chancellor] You think I may believe everything it says?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. I trust I shall not disappoint any favorable opinion you may have founded on it.
ANASTASIA. It says here that though you are stern with the worthless and merciless to the impostor, yet your mature wisdom and unparalleled legal knowledge are freely at the service of all deserving persons, and that no distressed suitor has ever been turned empty away from your door.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. That refers to my private house, madam. I dont keep food here.
MERCER. I have a sandwich for my lunch, Miss. Sooner than send you empty away, I would give it to you, Miss, most joyfully.
ANASTASIA. I ask, not charity, but justice.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Madam: I must request you to speak like a lady and not like a procession of the unemployed. The House of Lords always gives charity and never gives justice.
MERCER. The House of Lords will find itself unemployed one of these days, if you ask me.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Silence, Mercer. Have the goodness to keep your Radicalism to yourself in the presence of this lady.
ANASTASIA. Why do you allow your clerk to be a Radical?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Well, madam, to make him a Conservative and an Imperialist I should have to raise his salary very considerably; and I prefer to save money and put up with a Radical.
ANASTASIA. Youll excuse me asking you all these questions; but as Ive decided, after what the paper says, that you are the man to advise me and be a father to me, it's very important that you should be quite all right, isnt it?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. But it's not my business to be a father to every young lady who walks into my office.
ANASTASIA. Not your business! Why, Whitaker's Almanack says you get £10,000 a year. You dont get that for nothing, I suppose. [To Mercer] By the way, Whitaker doesnt say how much you get.
MERCER. I get one-fifty.
ANASTASIA. One-fifty into £10,000 goes about 66 times. Why does he get 66 times as much as you? Is he sixty-six times as good?
MERCER. He thinks so.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. I set up no such ridiculous pretension, Mercer.
ANASTASIA [to the Lord Chancellor] Perhaps youre 66 times as sober. How much do you drink every day?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. I am almost a teetotaller. A single bottle of burgundy is quite sufficient for me.
ANASTASIA [to Mercer] Then I suppose you drink 66 bottles of burgundy a day.
MERCER. 66 bottles of burgundy a day on one-fifty a year! Not me. It hardly runs to beer on Sundays.
ANASTASIA. Well, there must be something awfully wrong about you, you know, if you get only the sixty-sixth of what he gets.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. No, madam. Mercer is an excellent man in his proper place.
ANASTASIA. Then there must be something awfully right about you.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. I hope so.
ANASTASIA. I dont see the difference myself.
MERCER. He's better fed.
ANASTASIA. Is he? I should have thought he was too red about the nose to be quite healthy. It's the burgundy, I expect. However, I didnt come here to talk about you two. Call it selfish if you will; but I came to talk about myself. The fact is, I'm an orphan. At least, I think I am.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Dont you know?
ANASTASIA. No I was brought up in what you might politely call a sort of public institution. They found me on the doorstep, you know. Might have happened to anybody, mightnt it?
MERCER [scandalized] And you have the audacity to come here and talk up to us as if you was a lady. Be off with you; and be ashamed of yourself, you hussy.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Gently, Mercer, gently. It is not the poor girl's fault.
MERCER. Not her fault! Why, she aint anybody's daughter: she's only an offspring.
ANASTASIA. Perhaps I'm his daughter, my lord.
MERCER. Oh, you wicked girl! Oh, you naughty story, you! Oh, that I should have lived to have this accusation brought against me: me! a respectable man!
ANASTASIA. I had a feeling the moment I saw you.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. The voice of Nature! Oh, Mercer, Mercer!
MERCER. I'll have the law of you for this, I will. Oh, say you dont believe her, my lord. Dont drive me mad. Say you dont believe her.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. I cant disregard the voice of Nature, Mercer. The evidence against you is very black.
MERCER. Me the father of a common girl found on a workhouse doorstep!
ANASTASIA [rising most indignantly] How dare you presume to say such a thing? A workhouse doorstep indeed! I was found on the doorstep of one of the very best houses in Park Lane.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR [overwhelmed] My dear young lady, how can I apologize—
MERCER [crushed] I'm sure I beg your pardon most humbly, Miss.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Forget the rudeness of my clerk: he knows no better. Resume your seat, I beg.
MERCER. If I had only known, Miss! Park Lane! I could bite my tongue out for my bad manners, I do assure you.
ANASTASIA. Say no more. Of course you could not know my social position.
MERCER. Dont say that, Miss. You have Park Lane in every feature.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR [effusively] In your manners.
MERCER. In your accent.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. In your tone--
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. A je ne sais quoi—
MERCER. A tout ensemble—
ANASTASIA. You speak French?
MERCER. Not a word, Miss; but at the sight of that hat of yours the French fairly burst out of me.
ANASTASIA. You are very good—
[Together:] THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Oh, not at all./ MERCER. Dont mention it.
ANASTASIA. Dont begin again. I forgive you both. Now, attention! I'm a good-hearted but somewhat flighty girl; and I require some serious interest in life to steady me. As I had an ungovernable appetite, and was naturally rather inclined to be stout, I tried politics. For you, a man, politics meant the House of Lords. For me, a woman, politics meant Holloway Gaol and the hunger strike. I refused to take food until I was so frightfully hungry that when the Governor— who was a plump, chubby, tempting sort of man, you know— came into my cell and remonstrated with me, I attempted to devour him.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Pardon me. I thought you Suffragist lambs prided yourselves on acting always on principle. On what principle, may I ask do you justify an attempt to devour an estimable public official?
ANASTASIA. On the Cat and Mouse principle, my lord. That is a part of the law of England.
MERCER. Never. Not when the woman is the cat.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. May I ask, madam, what the unfortunate mouse did on this occasion?
ANASTASIA. He got quite angry, and said he wouldnt have me in his prison another minute— not if I went down on my knees and begged him to let me stay. Of course I refused to go; but I had to let the poor man have his way at last, though it took ten wardresses to persuade me to do it. I left them simply in ribbons, poor things. Prison made a great change in me. Before I went in I felt a great want of something to love; but when I came out I felt nothing but a great want of something to eat. There were two public houses near the prison. One had a placard up "Sausage and Mashed," the other "Sandwich and Small Lloyd George." I visited both in succession, and had two goes of each delicacy. I then drove to the Holborn Restaurant and had a five shilling lunch, stopping at three Pearce and Plentys on the way to sustain exhausted nature. At the Holborn they refused to serve me with a second lunch; so I went on to the Carlton. Of my subsequent experiences at the Savoy, Pagani's, Frascati's, Gatti's, five baked potato men, and a coffee stall, I shall say nothing. Suffice it that when at last the craving for food was stilled, the craving for love returned in all its original force. I felt I must have something to cherish, to sacrifice myself for. You no doubt hold that self-sacrifice is a woman's chief amusement.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Certainly I do.
ANASTASIA. Any man would. Well, what was I to love? My friends recommended marriage: a man, in fact. But I hesitated to rush at once to so expensive and troublesome an extreme. I tried a pet dog; but when it had been stolen for the sixth time by the man I bought it from, I refused to pay any more rewards, and we were parted for ever. I tried a cat; but its conduct was so disreputable that I really could not live in the same house with it. I adopted the orphan child of a crossing sweeper who was run over; but when its aunt learnt that I had no parents she would not permit it to stay. Glad as I must confess I was to get rid of the little beast, my starved heart still ached, my empty arms still longed to gather some beloved object to my breast.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. If I can be of any service to you, madam—
ANASTASIA. You? You are married, are you not?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Well, er, yes I er— am married.
MERCER [catching her eye] I'm sorry, miss; but so am I. Still, a divorce would be a matter of only eighty pound or so if we made it a fairly straight case.
ANASTASIA. Never shall it be said that Anastasia Vulliamy built her happiness on the ruin of another woman's home. There are younger and handsomer men than you, my lord: there are more genteel characters than Mercer. Neither of you, if I may be allowed the expression, is precisely what I should call a peach. And I want— oh, I want a peach. He must be a young peach. Not that I am to be seduced by the fleeting charms of a smooth cheek and a slim figure. But it's a necessity of my position as a woman that I should marry someone whom I can bully, because if a woman cant bully her husband, her husband generally bullies her.
- You, my lord, you will, you can,
- Find me a young and foolish man.
- Into my arms: under my thumb
- Let him come, let him come.
I fear I am almost dropping into poetry; but the tumult of my emotions carries me away. I implore you not to keep me waiting. My soul, my soul is thrilling as it never thrilled before. My arms, my arms are longing as they never longed before. My heart, my heart is beating as it never bet before. Every nerve in my body, every fibre in my heart—
BRABAZON. Excuse me: I left my stick, I think—
ANASTASIA [throwing herself into his arms] He has come: he has come: the very thing I want.
BRABAZON. Quite out of the question, my dear lady. Sir Cardonius will tell you that you are too young, too irresponsible, too impulsive to be anything more to me than an extremely agreeable object of contemplation, and a charming hostess. With that object may I venture to propose a marriage to you?
ANASTASIA. Silly! that is exactly what I am proposing to you.
BRABAZON. Not marriage to the same person, I think. You, as I understand it, propose to marry me. I propose that you should marry one of my friends. You can then invite me to your house, and put on your best company manners for my benefit. He will have the privilege of paying for your hats, and enjoying your no-company manners.
MERCER. My lord: this man has a giant intellect.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. It will avail him as little as if he were the biggest fool in creation. Young man: you are lost. I argued as you do. I tried to get out of it.
MERCER. I moved all the way from Gospel Oak to Islington to escape; but it was no use.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Beware how you anger her by shewing any reluctance. Remember: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
MERCER. Whats the good of that nowadays? When that was written a woman would take no for an answer. She wont now.
ANASTASIA. You will begin walking out with me at once. You are only on approval, of course; but if you suit, you may consider next Friday three weeks named as the day.
BRABAZON. But where does the merit come in for me? Where is the moral discipline? Where is the self-sacrifice? You are an agreeable person: to marry you would be an act of pure selfishness.
ANASTASIA. So you think now, dearest. You wont think that a year hence. I'll take care of that for my own boy.
BRABAZON. Yes, but look here, you know. Have you got any money?
ANASTASIA. Not a rap.
BRABAZON. And you expect to get a slave for nothing. What cheek!
ANASTASIA. I'm richer than you think, darling. It's true that I'm a poor penniless orphan. Doesnt that touch you?
BRABAZON. Not in the least.
ANASTASIA. Thoughtless boy. Have you forgotten that the women who have money always belong to some family or other?
ANASTASIA. Well, a family means relations. You cant call your house your own. The brothers borrow money. The sisters come and stay for months. The mother quarrels with your mother.
MERCER. Gospel truth, every word of it.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR. Undeniable. [He sighs deeply].
ANASTASIA. I, my love, am not perfect. I am a weak woman: I have nothing to cling to but your love, nor any place to rest except your very becoming fancy waistcoat. But at least I'm a foundling.
BRABAZON [excited and hopeful] A foundling?
ANASTASIA. I havnt a relation in the world.
BRABAZON [clasping her] Mine! mine! MINE!!!
- THE END
AYOT ST LAWRENCE, 10th August 1909. </div>
|Works by this author are in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 66 years or less.|