This etext was produced by Eve Sobol, South Bend, Indiana, USA
THE INCA OF PERUSALEM: AN ALMOST HISTORICAL COMEDIETTA
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
I must remind the reader that this playlet was written when its principal character, far from being a fallen foe and virtually a prisoner in our victorious hands, was still the Caesar whose legions we were resisting with our hearts in our mouths. Many were so horribly afraid of him that they could not forgive me for not being afraid of him: I seemed to be trifling heartlessly with a deadly peril. I knew better; and I have represented Caesar as knowing better himself. But it was one of the quaintnesses of popular feeling during the war that anyone who breathed the slightest doubt of the absolute perfection of German organization, the Machiavellian depth of German diplomacy, the omniscience of German science, the equipment of every German with a complete philosophy of history, and the consequent hopelessness of overcoming so magnificently accomplished an enemy except by the sacrifice of every recreative activity to incessant and vehement war work, including a heartbreaking mass of fussing and cadging and bluffing that did nothing but waste our energies and tire our resolution, was called a pro-German.
Now that this is all over, and the upshot of the fighting has shown that we could quite well have afforded to laugh at the doomed Inca, I am in another difficulty. I may be supposed to be hitting Caesar when he is down. That is why I preface the play with this reminder that when it was written he was not down. To make quite sure, I have gone through the proof sheets very carefully, and deleted everything that could possibly be mistaken for a foul blow. I have of course maintained the ancient privilege of comedy to chasten Caesar’s foibles by laughing at them, whilst introducing enough obvious and outrageous fiction to relieve both myself and my model from the obligations and responsibilities of sober history and biography. But I should certainly put the play in the fire instead of publishing it if it contained a word against our defeated enemy that I would not have written in 1913.
The Inca of Perusalem was performed for the first time in England by the Pioneer Players at the Criterion Theatre, London, on 16th December, 1917, with Gertrude Kingston as Ermyntrude, Helen Morris as the Princess, Nigel Playfair as the waiter, Alfred Drayton as the hotel manager, C. Wordley Hulse as the Archdeacon, and Randle Ayrton as the Inca.
The tableau curtains are closed. An English archdeacon comes through them in a condition of extreme irritation. He speaks through the curtains to someone behind them.
THE ARCHDEACON. Once for all, Ermyntrude, I cannot afford to maintain you in your present extravagance. [He goes to a flight of steps leading to the stalls and sits down disconsolately on the top step. A fashionably dressed lady comes through the curtains and contemplates him with patient obstinacy. He continues, grumbling.] An English clergyman’s daughter should be able to live quite respectably and comfortably on an allowance of 150 a year, wrung with great difficulty from the domestic budget.
ERMYNTRUDE. You are not a common clergyman: you are an archdeacon.
THE ARCHDEACON [angrily]. That does not affect my emoluments to the extent of enabling me to support a daughter whose extravagance would disgrace a royal personage. [Scrambling to his feet and scolding at her.] What do you mean by it, Miss?
ERMYNTRUDE. Oh really, father! Miss! Is that the way to talk to a widow?
THE ARCHDEACON. Is that the way to talk to a father? Your marriage was a most disastrous imprudence. It gave you habits that are absolutely beyond your means–I mean beyond my means: you have no means. Why did you not marry Matthews: the best curate I ever had?
ERMYNTRUDE. I wanted to; and you wouldn’t let me. You insisted on my marrying Roosenhonkers-Pipstein.
THE ARCHDEACON. I had to do the best for you, my child. Roosenhonkers-Pipstein was a millionaire.
ERMYNTRUDE. How did you know he was a millionaire?
THE ARCHDEACON. He came from America. Of course he was a millionaire. Besides, he proved to my solicitors that he had fifteen million dollars when you married him.
ERYNTRUDE. His solicitors proved to me that he had sixteen millions when he died. He was a millionaire to the last.
THE ARCHDEACON. O Mammon, Mammon! I am punished now for bowing the knee to him. Is there nothing left of your settlement? Fifty thousand dollars a year it secured to you, as we all thought. Only half the securities could be called speculative. The other half were gilt-edged. What has become of it all?
ERMYNTRUDE. The speculative ones were not paid up; and the gilt-edged ones just paid the calls on them until the whole show burst up.
THE ARCHDEACON. Ermyntrude: what expressions!
ERMYNTRUDE. Oh bother! If you had lost ten thousand a year what expressions would you use, do you think? The long and the short of it is that I can’t live in the squalid way you are accustomed to.
THE ARCHDEACON. Squalid!
ERMYNTRUDE. I have formed habits of comfort.
THE ARCHDEACON. Comfort!!
ERMYNTRUDE. Well, elegance if you like. Luxury, if you insist. Call it what you please. A house that costs less than a hundred thousand dollars a year to run is intolerable to me.
THE ARCHDEACON. Then, my dear, you had better become lady’s maid to a princess until you can find another millionaire to marry you.
ERMYNTRUDE. That’s an idea. I will. [She vanishes through the curtains.]
THE ARCHDEACON. What! Come back. Come back this instant. [The lights are lowered.] Oh, very well: I have nothing more to say. [He descends the steps into the auditorium and makes for the door, grumbling all the time.] Insane, senseless extravagance! [Barking.] Worthlessness!! [Muttering.] I will not bear it any longer. Dresses, hats, furs, gloves, motor rides: one bill after another: money going like water. No restraint, no self-control, no decency. [Shrieking.] I say, no decency! [Muttering again.] Nice state of things we are coming to! A pretty world! But I simply will not bear it. She can do as she likes. I wash my hands of her: I am not going to die in the workhouse for any good-for-nothing, undutiful, spendthrift daughter; and the sooner that is understood by everybody the better for all par– [He is by this time out of hearing in the corridor.]
A hotel sitting room. A table in the centre. On it a telephone. Two chairs at it, opposite one another. Behind it, the door. The fireplace has a mirror in the mantelpiece.
A spinster Princess, hatted and gloved, is ushered in by the hotel manager, spruce and artifically bland by professional habit, but treating his customer with a condescending affability which sails very close to the east wind of insolence.
THE MANAGER. I am sorry I am unable to accommodate Your Highness on the first floor.
THE PRINCESS [very shy and nervous.] Oh, please don’t mention it. This is quite nice. Very nice. Thank you very much.
THE MANAGER. We could prepare a room in the annexe–
THE PRINCESS. Oh no. This will do very well.
She takes of her gloves and hat: puts them on the table; and sits down.
THE MANAGER. The rooms are quite as good up here. There is less noise; and there is the lift. If Your Highness desires anything, there is the telephone–
THE PRINCESS. Oh, thank you, I don’t want anything. The telephone is so difficult: I am not accustomed to it.
THE MANAGER. Can I take any order? Some tea?
THE PRINCESS. Oh, thank you. Yes: I should like some tea, if I might–if it would not be too much trouble.
He goes out. The telephone rings. The Princess starts out of her chair, terrified, and recoils as far as possible from the instrument.
THE PRINCESS. Oh dear! [It rings again. She looks scared. It rings again. She approaches it timidly. It rings again. She retreats hastily. It rings repeatedly. She runs to it in desperation and puts the receiver to her ear.] Who is there? What do I do? I am not used to the telephone: I don’t know how– What! Oh, I can hear you speaking quite distinctly. [She sits down, delighted, and settles herself for a conversation.] How wonderful! What! A lady? Oh! a person. Oh, yes: I know. Yes, please, send her up. Have my servants finished their lunch yet? Oh no: please don’t disturb them: I’d rather not. It doesn’t matter. Thank you. What? Oh yes, it’s quite easy. I had no idea– am I to hang it up just as it was? Thank you. [She hangs it up.]
Ermyntrude enters, presenting a plain and staid appearance in a long straight waterproof with a hood over her head gear. She comes to the end of the table opposite to that at which the Princess is seated.
THE PRINCESS. Excuse me. I have been talking through the telephone: and I heard quite well, though I have never ventured before. Won’t you sit down?
ERMYNTRUDE. No, thank you, Your Highness. I am only a lady’s maid. I understood you wanted one.
THE PRINCESS. Oh no: you mustn’t think I want one. It’s so unpatriotic to want anything now, on account of the war, you know. I sent my maid away as a public duty; and now she has married a soldier and is expecting a war baby. But I don’t know how to do without her. I’ve tried my very best; but somehow it doesn’t answer: everybody cheats me; and in the end it isn’t any saving. So I’ve made up my mind to sell my piano and have a maid. That will be a real saving, because I really don’t care a bit for music, though of course one has to pretend to. Don’t you think so?
ERMYNTRUDE. Certainly I do, Your Highness. Nothing could be more correct. Saving and self-denial both at once; and an act of kindness to me, as I am out of place.
THE PRINCESS. I’m so glad you see it in that way. Er–you won’t mind my asking, will you?–how did you lose your place?
ERMYNTRUDE. The war, Your Highness, the war.
THE PRINCESS. Oh yes, of course. But how–
ERMYNTRUDE [taking out her handkerchief and showing signs of grief]. My poor mistress–
THE PRINCESS. Oh please say no more. Don’t think about it. So tactless of me to mention it.
ERMYNTRUDE [mastering her emotion and smiling through her tears]. Your Highness is too good.
THE PRINCESS. Do you think you could be happy with me? I attach such importance to that.
ERMYNTRUDE [gushing]. Oh, I know–I shall.
THE PRINCESS. You must not expect too much. There is my uncle. He is very severe and hasty; and he is my guardian. I once had a maid I liked very much; but he sent her away the very first time.
ERMYNTRUDE. The first time of what, Your Highness?
THE PRINCESS. Oh, something she did. I am sure she had never done it before; and I know she would never have done it again, she was so truly contrite and nice about it.
ERMYNTRUDE. About what, Your Highness?
THE PRINCESS. Well, she wore my jewels and one of my dresses at a rather improper ball with her young man; and my uncle saw her.
ERYMNTRUDE. Then he was at the ball too, Your Highness?
THE PRINCESS [struck by the inference]. I suppose he must have been. I wonder! You know, it’s very sharp of you to find that out. I hope you are not too sharp.
ERMYNTRUDE. A lady’s maid has to be, Your Highness. [She produces some letters.] Your Highness wishes to see my testimonials, no doubt. I have one from an Archdeacon. [She proffers the letters.]
THE PRINCESS [taking them]. Do archdeacons have maids? How curious!
ERMYNTRUDE. No, Your Highness. They have daughters. I have first-rate testimonials from the Archdeacon and from his daughter.
THE PRINCESS [reading them]. The daughter says you are in every respect a treasure. The Archdeacon says he would have kept you if he could possibly have afforded it. Most satisfactory, I’m sure.
ERMYNTRUDE. May I regard myself as engaged then, Your Highness?
THE PRINCESS [alarmed]. Oh, I’m sure I don’t know. If you like, of course; but do you think I ought to?
ERMYNTRUDE. Naturally I think Your Highness ought to, most decidedly.
THE PRINCESS. Oh well, if you think that, I daresay you’re quite right. You’ll excuse my mentioning it, I hope; but what wages– er–?
ERMYNTRUDE. The same as the maid who went to the ball. Your Highness need not make any change.
THE PRINCESS. M’yes. Of course she began with less. But she had such a number of relatives to keep! It was quite heartbreaking: I had to raise her wages again and again.
ERMYNTRUDE. I shall be quite content with what she began on; and I have no relatives dependent on me. And I am willing to wear my own dresses at balls.
THE PRINCESS. I am sure nothing could be fairer than that. My uncle can’t object to that, can he?
ERMYNTRUDE. If he does, Your Highness, ask him to speak to me about it. I shall regard it as part of my duties to speak to your uncle about matters of business.
THE PRINCESS. Would you? You must be frightfully courageous.
ERMYNTRUDE. May I regard myself as engaged, Your Highness? I should like to set about my duties immediately.
THE PRINCESS. Oh yes, I think so. Oh certainly. I–
A waiter comes in with the tea. He places the tray on the table.
THE PRINCESS. Oh, thank you.
ERMYNTRUDE [raising the cover from the tea cake and looking at it]. How long has that been standing at the top of the stairs?
THE PRINCESS [terrified]. Oh please! It doesn’t matter.
THE WAITER. It has not been waiting. Straight from the kitchen, madam, believe me.
ERMYNTRUDE. Send the manager here.
THE WAITER. The manager! What do you want with the manager?
ERMYNTRUDE. He will tell you when I have done with him. How dare you treat Her Highness in this disgraceful manner? What sort of pothouse is this? Where did you learn to speak to persons of quality? Take away your cold tea and cold cake instantly. Give them to the chambermaid you were flirting with whilst Her Highness was waiting. Order some fresh tea at once; and do not presume to bring it yourself: have it brought by a civil waiter who is accustomed to wait on ladies, and not, like you, on commercial travellers.
THE WAITER. Alas, madam, I am not accustomed to wait on anybody. Two years ago I was an eminent medical man, my waiting-room was crowded with the flower of the aristocracy and the higher bourgeoisie from nine to six every day. But the war came; and my patients were ordered to give up their luxuries. They gave up their doctors, but kept their week-end hotels, closing every career to me except the career of a waiter. [He puts his fingers on the teapot to test its temperature, and automatically takes out his watch with the other hand as if to count the teapot’s pulse.] You are right: the tea is cold: it was made by the wife of a once fashionable architect. The cake is only half toasted: what can you expect from a ruined west-end tailor whose attempt to establish a second-hand business failed last Tuesday week? Have you the heart to complain to the manager? Have we not suffered enough? Are our miseries nev– [the manager enters]. Oh Lord! here he is. [The waiter withdraws abjectly, taking the tea tray with him.]
THE MANAGER. Pardon, Your Highness; but I have received an urgent inquiry for rooms from an English family of importance; and I venture to ask you to let me know how long you intend to honor us with your presence.
THE PRINCESS [rising anxiously]. Oh! am I in the way?
ERMYNTRUDE [sternly]. Sit down, madam. [The Princess sits down forlornly. Ermyntrude turns imperiously to the Manager.] Her Highness will require this room for twenty minutes.
THE MANAGER. Twenty minutes!
ERMYNTRUDE. Yes: it will take fully that time to find a proper apartment in a respectable hotel.
THE MANAGER. I do not understand.
ERMYNTRUDE. You understand perfectly. How dare you offer Her Highness a room on the second floor?
THE MANAGER. But I have explained. The first floor is occupied. At least–
ERMYNTRUDE. Well? at least?
THE MANAGER. It is occupied.
ERMYNTRUDE. Don’t you dare tell Her Highness a falsehood. It is not occupied. You are saving it up for the arrival of the five-fifteen express, from which you hope to pick up some fat armaments contractor who will drink all the bad champagne in your cellar at 5 francs a bottle, and pay twice over for everything because he is in the same hotel with Her Highness, and can boast of having turned her out of the best rooms.
THE MANAGER. But Her Highness was so gracious. I did not know that Her Highness was at all particular.
ERMYNTRUDE. And you take advantage of Her Highness’s graciousness. You impose on her with your stories. You give her a room not fit for a dog. You send cold tea to her by a decayed professional person disguised as a waiter. But don’t think you can trifle with me. I am a lady’s maid; and I know the ladies’ maids and valets of all the aristocracies of Europe and all the millionaires of America. When I expose your hotel as the second-rate little hole it is, not a soul above the rank of a curate with a large family will be seen entering it. I shake its dust off my feet. Order the luggage to be taken down at once.
THE MANAGER [appealing to the Princess]. Can Your Highness believe this of me? Have I had the misfortune to offend Your Highness?
THE PRINCESS. Oh no. I am quite satisfied. Please–
ERMYNTRUDE. Is Your Highness dissatisfied with me?
THE PRINCESS [intimidated]. Oh no: please don’t think that. I only meant–
ERMYNTRUDE [to the manager]. You hear. Perhaps you think Her Highness is going to do the work of teaching you your place herself, instead of leaving it to her maid.
THE MANAGER. Oh please, mademoiselle. Believe me: our only wish is to make you perfectly comfortable. But in consequence of the war, all royal personages now practise a rigid economy, and desire us to treat them like their poorest subjects.
THE PRINCESS. Oh yes. You are quite right–
ERMYNTRUDE [interrupting]. There! Her Highness forgives you; but don’t do it again. Now go downstairs, my good man, and get that suite on the first floor ready for us. And send some proper tea. And turn on the heating apparatus until the temperature in the rooms is comfortably warm. And have hot water put in all the bedrooms–
THE MANAGER. There are basins with hot and cold taps.
ERMYNTRUDE [scornfully]. Yes: there WOULD be. Suppose we must put up with that: sinks in our rooms, and pipes that rattle and bang and guggle all over the house whenever anyone washes his hands. I know.
THE MANAGER [gallant]. You are hard to please, mademoiselle.
ERMYNTRUDE. No harder than other people. But when I’m not pleased I’m not too ladylike to say so. That’s all the difference. There is nothing more, thank you.
The Manager shrugs his shoulders resignedly; makes a deep bow to the Princess; goes to the door; wafts a kiss surreptitiously to Ermyntrude; and goes out.
THE PRINCESS. It’s wonderful! How have you the courage?
ERMYNTRUDE. In Your Highness’s service I know no fear. Your Highness can leave all unpleasant people to me.
THE PRINCESS. How I wish I could! The most dreadful thing of all I have to go through myself.
ERMYNTRUDE. Dare I ask what it is, Your Highness?
THE PRINCESS. I’m going to be married. I’m to be met here and married to a man I never saw. A boy! A boy who never saw me! One of the sons of the Inca of Perusalem.
ERMYNTRUDE. Indeed? Which son?
THE PRINCESS. I don’t know. They haven’t settled which. It’s a dreadful thing to be a princess: they just marry you to anyone they like. The Inca is to come and look at me, and pick out whichever of his sons he thinks will suit. And then I shall be an alien enemy everywhere except in Perusalem, because the Inca has made war on everybody. And I shall have to pretend that everybody has made war on him. It’s too bad.
ERMYNTRUDE. Still, a husband is a husband. I wish I had one.
THE PRINCESS. Oh, how can you say that! I’m afraid you’re not a nice woman.
ERMYNTRUDE. Your Highness is provided for. I’m not.
THE PRINCESS. Even if you could bear to let a man touch you, you shouldn’t say so.
ERMYNTRUDE. I shall not say so again, Your Highness, except perhaps to the man.
THE PRINCESS. It’s too dreadful to think of. I wonder you can be so coarse. I really don’t think you’ll suit. I feel sure now that you know more about men than you should.
ERMYNTRUDE. I am a widow, Your Highness.
THE PRINCESS [overwhelmed]. Oh, I BEG your pardon. Of course I ought to have known you would not have spoken like that if you were not married. That makes it all right, doesn’t it? I’m so sorry.
The Manager returns, white, scared, hardly able to speak.
THE MANAGER. Your Highness, an officer asks to see you on behalf of the Inca of Perusalem.
THE PRINCESS [rising distractedly]. Oh, I can’t, really. Oh, what shall I do?
THE MANAGER. On important business, he says, Your Highness. Captain Duval.
ERMYNTRUDE. Duval! Nonsense! The usual thing. It is the Inca himself, incognito.
THE PRINCESS. Oh, send him away. Oh, I’m so afraid of the Inca. I’m not properly dressed to receive him; and he is so particular: he would order me to stay in my room for a week. Tell him to call tomorrow: say I’m ill in bed. I can’t: I won’t: I daren’t: you must get rid of him somehow.
ERMYNTRUDE. Leave him to me, Your Highness.
THE PRINCESS. You’d never dare!
ERMYNTRUDE. I am an Englishwoman, Your Highess, and perfectly capable of tackling ten Incas if necessary. I will arrange the matter. [To the Manager.] Show Her Highness to her bedroom; and then show Captain Duval in here.
THE PRINCESS. Oh, thank you so much. [She goes to the door. Ermyntrude, noticing that she has left her hat and gloves on the table, runs after her with them.] Oh, THANK you. And oh, please, if I must have one of his sons, I should like a fair one that doesn’t shave, with soft hair and a beard. I couldn’t bear being kissed by a bristly person. [She runs out, the Manager bowing as she passes. He follows her.]
Ermyntrude whips off her waterproof; hides it; and gets herself swiftly into perfect trim at the mirror, before the Manager, with a large jewel case in his hand, returns, ushering in the Inca.
THE MANAGER. Captain Duval.
The Inca, in military uniform, advances with a marked and imposing stage walk; stops; orders the trembling Manager by a gesture to place the jewel case on the table; dismisses him with a frown; touches his helmet graciously to Ermyntrude; and takes off his cloak.
THE INCA. I beg you, madam, to be quite at your ease, and to speak to me without ceremony.
ERMYNTRUDE [moving haughtily and carelessly to the table]. I hadn’t the slightest intention of treating you with ceremony. [She sits down: a liberty which gives him a perceptible shock.] I am quite at a loss to imagine why I should treat a perfect stranger named Duval: a captain! almost a subaltern! with the smallest ceremony.
THE INCA. That is true. I had for the moment forgotten my position.
ERMYNTRUDE. It doesn’t matter. You may sit down.
THE INCA [frowning.] What!
ERMYNTRUDE. I said, you…may…sit…down.
THE INCA. Oh. [His moustache droops. He sits down.]
ERMYNTRUDE. What is your business?
THE INCA. I come on behalf of the Inca of Perusalem.
ERMYNTRUDE. The Allerhochst?
THE INCA. Precisely.
ERMYNTRUDE. I wonder does he feel ridiculous when people call him the Allerhochst.
THE INCA [surprised]. Why should he? He IS the Allerhochst.
ERMYNTRUDE. Is he nice looking?
THE INCA. I–er. Er–I. I–er. I am not a good judge.
ERMYNTRUDE. They say he takes himself very seriously.
THE INCA. Why should he not, madam? Providence has entrusted to his family the care of a mighty empire. He is in a position of half divine, half paternal, responsibility towards sixty millions of people, whose duty it is to die for him at the word of command. To take himself otherwise than seriously would be blasphemous. It is a punishable offence–severely punishable–in Perusalem. It is called Incadisparagement.
ERMYNTRUDE. How cheerful! Can he laugh?
THE INCA. Certainly, madam. [He laughs, harshly and mirthlessly.] Ha ha! Ha ha ha!
ERMYNTRUDE [frigidly]. I asked could the Inca laugh. I did not ask could you laugh.
THE INCA. That is true, madam. [Chuckling.] Devilish amusing, that! [He laughs, genially and sincerely, and becomes a much more agreeable person.] Pardon me: I am now laughing because I cannot help it. I am amused. The other was merely an imitation: a failure, I admit.
ERMYNTRUDE. You intimated that you had some business?
THE INCA [producing a very large jewel case, and relapsing into solemnity. I am instructed by the Allerhochst to take a careful note of your features and figure, and, if I consider them satisfactory, to present you with this trifling token of His Imperial Majesty’s regard. I do consider them satisfactory. Allow me [he opens the jewel case and presents it.]
ERMYNTRUDE [staring at the contents]. What awful taste he must have! I can’t wear that.
THE INCA [reddening]. Take care, madam! This brooch was designed by the Inca himself. Allow me to explain the design. In the centre, the shield of Arminius. The ten surrounding medallions represent the ten castles of His Majesty. The rim is a piece of the telephone cable laid by His Majesty across the Shipskeel canal. The pin is a model in miniature of the sword of Henry the Birdcatcher.
ERMYNTRUDE. Miniature! It must be bigger than the original. My good man, you don’t expect me to wear this round my neck: it’s as big as a turtle. [He shuts the case with an angry snap.] How much did it cost?
THE INCA. For materials and manufacture alone, half a million Perusalem dollars, madam. The Inca’s design constitutes it a work of art. As such, it is now worth probably ten million dollars.
ERMYNTRUDE. Give it to me [she snatches it]. I’ll pawn it and buy something nice with the money.
THE INCA. Impossible, madam. A design by the Inca must not be exhibited for sale in the shop window of a pawnbroker. [He flings himself into his chair, fuming.]
ERMYNTRUDE. So much the better. The Inca will have to redeem it to save himself from that disgrace; and the poor pawnbroker will get his money back. Nobody would buy it, you know.
THE INCA. May I ask why?
ERMYNTRUDL. Well, look at it! Just look at it! I ask you!
THE INCA [his moustache drooping ominously]. I am sorry to have to report to the Inca that you have no soul for fine art. [He rises sulkily.] The position of daughter-in-law to the Inca is not compatible with the tastes of a pig. [He attempts to take back the brooch.]
ERMYNTRUDE [rising and retreating behind her chair with the brooch]. Here! you let that brooch alone. You presented it to me on behalf of the Inca. It is mine. You said my appearance was satisfactory.
THE INCA. Your appearance is not satisfactory. The Inca would not allow his son to marry you if the boy were on a desert island and you were the only other human being on it [he strides up the room.]
ERMYNTRUDE [calmly sitting down and replacing the case on the table]. How could he? There would be no clergyman to marry us. It would have to be quite morganatic.
THE INCA [returning]. Such an expression is out of place in the mouth of a princess aspiring to the highest destiny on earth. You have the morals of a dragoon. [She receives this with a shriek of laughter. He struggles with his sense of humor.] At the same time [he sits down] there is a certain coarse fun in the idea which compels me to smile [he turns up his moustache and smiles.]
ERMYNTRUDE. When I marry the Inca’s son, Captain, I shall make the Inca order you to cut off that moustache. It is too irresistible. Doesn’t it fascinate everyone in Perusalem?
THE INCA [leaning forward to her energetically]. By all the thunders of Thor, madam, it fascinates the whole world.
ERMYNTRUDE. What I like about you, Captain Duval, is your modesty.
THE INCA [straightening up suddenly]. Woman, do not be a fool.
ERMYNTRUDE [indignant]. Well!
THE INCA. You must look facts in the face. This moustache is an exact copy of the Inca’s moustache. Well, does the world occupy itself with the Inca’s moustache or does it not? Does it ever occupy itself with anything else? If that is the truth, does its recognition constitute the Inca a coxcomb? Other potentates have moustaches: even beards and moustaches. Does the world occupy itself with those beards and moustaches? Do the hawkers in the streets of every capital on the civilized globe sell ingenious cardboard representations of their faces on which, at the pulling of a simple string, the moustaches turn up and down, so–[he makes his moustache turn, up and down several times]? No! I say No. The Inca’s moustache is so watched and studied that it has made his face the political barometer of the whole continent. When that moustache goes up, culture rises with it. Not what you call culture; but Kultur, a word so much more significant that I hardly understand it myself except when I am in specially good form. When it goes down, millions of men perish.
ERMYNTRUDE. You know, if I had a moustache like that, it would turn my head. I should go mad. Are you quite sure the Inca isn’t mad?
THE INCA. How can he be mad, madam? What is sanity? The condition of the Inca’s mind. What is madness? The condition of the people who disagree with the Inca.
ERMYNTRUDE. Then I am a lunatic because I don’t like that ridiculous brooch.
THE INCA. No, madam: you are only an idiot.
ERMYNTRUDE. Thank you.
THE INCA. Mark you: It is not to be expected that you should see eye to eye with the Inca. That would be presumption. It is for you to accept without question or demur the assurance of your Inca that the brooch is a masterpiece.
ERMYNTRUDE. MY Inca! Oh, come! I like that. He is not my Inca yet.
THE INCA. He is everybody’s Inca, madam. His realm will yet extend to the confines of the habitable earth. It is his divine right; and let those who dispute it look to themselves. Properly speaking, all those who are now trying to shake his world predominance are not at war with him, but in rebellion against him.
ERMYNTRUDE. Well, he started it, you know.
THE INCA. Madam, be just. When the hunters surround the lion, the lion will spring. The Inca had kept the peace of years. Those who attacked him were steeped in blood, black blood, white blood, brown blood, yellow blood, blue blood. The Inca had never shed a drop.
ERMYNTRUDE. He had only talked.
THE INCA. Only TALKED! ONLY talked! What is more glorious than talk? Can anyone in the world talk like him? Madam, when he signed the declaration of war, he said to his foolish generals and admirals, ‘Gentlemen, you will all be sorry for this.’ And they are. They know now that they had better have relied on the sword of the spirit: in other words, on their Inca’s talk, than on their murderous cannons. The world will one day do justice to the Inca as the man who kept the peace with nothing but his tongue and his moustache. While he talked: talked just as I am talking now to you, simply, quietly, sensibly, but GREATLY, there was peace; there was prosperity; Perusalem went from success to success. He has been silenced for a year by the roar of trinitrotoluene and the bluster of fools; and the world is in ruins. What a tragedy! [He is convulsed with grief.]
ERMYNTRUDE. Captain Duval, I don’t want to be unsympathetic; but suppose we get back to business.
THE INCA. Business! What business?
ERMYNTRUDE. Well, MY business. You want me to marry one of the Inca’s sons: I forget which.
THE INCA. As far as I can recollect the name, it is His Imperial Highness Prince Eitel William Frederick George Franz Josef Alexander Nicholas Victor Emmanuel Albert Theodore Wilson–
ERMYNTRUDE [interrupting]. Oh, please, please, mayn’t I have one with a shorter name? What is he called at home?
THE INCA. He is usually called Sonny, madam. [With great charm of manner.] But you will please understand that the Inca has no desire to pin you to any particular son. There is Chips and Spots and Lulu and Pongo and the Corsair and the Piffler and Jack Johnson the Second, all unmarried. At least not seriously married: nothing, in short, that cannot be arranged. They are all at your service.
ERMYNTRUDE. Are they all as clever and charming as their father?
THE INCA [lifts his eyebrows pityingly; shrugs his shoulders; then, with indulgent paternal contempt]. Excellent lads, madam. Very honest affectionate creatures. I have nothing against them. Pongo imitates farmyard sounds–cock crowing and that sort of thing–extremely well. Lulu plays Strauss’s Sinfonia Domestica on the mouth organ really screamingly. Chips keeps owls and rabbits. Spots motor bicycles. The Corsair commands canal barges and steers them himself. The Piffler writes plays, and paints most abominably. Jack Johnson trims ladies’ hats, and boxes with professionals hired for that purpose. He is invariably victorious. Yes: they all have their different little talents. And also, of course, their family resemblances. For example, they all smoke; they all quarrel with one another; and they none of them appreciate their father, who, by the way, is no mean painter, though the Piffler pretends to ridicule his efforts.
ERMYNTRUDE. Quite a large choice, eh?
THE INCA. But very little to choose, believe me. I should not recommend Pongo, because he snores so frightfully that it has been necessary to build him a sound-proof bedroom: otherwise the royal family would get no sleep. But any of the others would suit equally well–if you are really bent on marrying one of them.
ERMYNTRUDE. If! What is this? I never wanted to marry one of them. I thought you wanted me to.
THE INCA. I did, madam; but [confidentially, flattering her] you are not quite the sort of person I expected you to be; and I doubt whether any of these young degenerates would make you happy. I trust I am not showing any want of natural feeling when I say that from the point of view of a lively, accomplished, and beautiful woman [Ermyntrude bows] they might pall after a time. I suggest that you might prefer the Inca himself.
ERMYNTRUDE. Oh, Captain, how could a humble person like myself be of any interest to a prince who is surrounded with the ablest and most far-reaching intellects in the world?
TAE INCA [explosively]. What on earth are you talking about, madam? Can you name a single man in the entourage of the Inca who is not a born fool?
ERMYNTRUDE. Oh, how can you say that! There is Admiral von Cockpits–
THE INCA [rising intolerantly and striding about the room]. Von Cockpits! Madam, if Von Cockpits ever goes to heaven, before three weeks are over the Angel Gabriel will be at war with the man in the moon.
ERMYNTRUDE. But General Von Schinkenburg–
THE INCA. Schinkenburg! I grant you, Schinkenburg has a genius for defending market gardens. Among market gardens he is invincible. But what is the good of that? The world does not consist of market gardens. Turn him loose in pasture and he is lost. The Inca has defeated all these generals again and again at manoeuvres; and yet he has to give place to them in the field because he would be blamed for every disaster–accused of sacrificing the country to his vanity. Vanity! Why do they call him vain? Just because he is one of the few men who are not afraid to live. Why do they call themselves brave? Because they have not sense enough to be afraid to die. Within the last year the world has produced millions of heroes. Has it produced more than one Inca? [He resumes his seat.]
ERMYNTRUDE. Fortunately not, Captain. I’d rather marry Chips.
THE INCA [making a wry face]. Chips! Oh no: I wouldn’t marry Chips.
THE INCA [whispering the secret]. Chips talks too much about himself.
ERMYNTRUDE. Well, what about Snooks?
THE INCA. Snooks? Who is he? Have I a son named Snooks? There are so many–[wearily] so many–that I often forget. [Casually.] But I wouldn’t marry him, anyhow, if I were you.
ERMYNTRUDE. But hasn’t any of them inherited the family genius? Surely, if Providence has entrusted them with the care of Perusalem–if they are all descended from Bedrock the Great–
THE INCA [interrupting her impatiently]. Madam, if you ask me, I consider Bedrock a grossly overrated monarch.
ERMYNTRUDE [shocked]. Oh, Captain! Take care! Incadisparagement.
THE INCA. I repeat, grossly overrated. Strictly between ourselves, I do not believe all this about Providence entrusting the care of sixty million human beings to the abilities of Chips and the Piffler and Jack Johnson. I believe in individual genius. That is the Inca’s secret. It must be. Why, hang it all, madam, if it were a mere family matter, the Inca’s uncle would have been as great a man as the Inca. And–well, everybody knows what the Inca’s uncle was.
ERMYNTRUDE. My experience is that the relatives of men of genius are always the greatest duffers imaginable.
THE INCA. Precisely. That is what proves that the Inca is a man of genius. His relatives ARE duffers.
ERMYNTRUDE. But bless my soul, Captain, if all the Inca’s generals are incapables, and all his relatives duffers, Perusalem will be beaten in the war; and then it will become a republic, like France after 1871, and the Inca will be sent to St Helena.
THE INCA [triumphantly]. That is just what the Inca is playing for, madam. It is why he consented to the war.
THE INCA. Aha! The fools talk of crushing the Inca; but they little know their man. Tell me this. Why did St Helena extinguish Napoleon?
ERMYNTRUDE. I give it up.
THE INCA. Because, madam, with certain rather remarkable qualities, which I should be the last to deny, Napoleon lacked versatility. After all, any fool can be a soldier: we know that only too well in Perusalem, where every fool is a soldier. But the Inca has a thousand other resources. He is an architect. Well, St Helena presents an unlimited field to the architect. He is a painter: need I remind you that St Helena is still without a National Gallery? He is a composer: Napoleon left no symphonies in St Helena. Send the Inca to St Helena, madam, and the world will crowd thither to see his works as they crowd now to Athens to see the Acropolis, to Madrid to see the pictures of Velasquez, to Bayreuth to see the music dramas of that egotistical old rebel Richard Wagner, who ought to have been shot before he was forty, as indeed he very nearly was. Take this from me: hereditary monarchs are played out: the age for men of genius has come: the career is open to the talents: before ten years have elapsed every civilized country from the Carpathians to the Rocky Mountains will be a Republic.
ERMYNTRUDE. Then goodbye to the Inca.
THE INCA. On the contrary, madam, the Inca will then have his first real chance. He will be unanimously invited by those Republics to return from his exile and act as Superpresident of all the republics.
ERMYNTRUDE. But won’t that be a come-down for him? Think of it! after being Inca, to be a mere President!
THE INCA. Well, why not! An Inca can do nothing. He is tied hand and foot. A constitutional monarch is openly called an India-rubber stamp. An emperor is a puppet. The Inca is not allowed to make a speech: he is compelled to take up a screed of flatulent twaddle written by some noodle of a minister and read it aloud. But look at the American President! He is the Allerhochst, if you like. No, madam, believe me, there is nothing like Democracy, American Democracy. Give the people voting papers: good long voting papers, American fashion; and while the people are reading the voting papers the Government does what it likes.
ERMYNTRUDE. What! You too worship before the statue of Liberty, like the Americans?
THE INCA. Not at all, madam. The Americans do not worship the statue of Liberty. They have erected it in the proper place for a statue of Liberty: on its tomb [he turns down his moustaches.]
ERMYNTRUDE [laughing]. Oh! You’d better not let them hear you say that, Captain.
THE INCA. Quite safe, madam: they would take it as a joke. [He rises. And now, prepare yourself for a surprise. [She rises]. A shock. Brace yourself. Steel yourself. And do not be afraid.
ERMYNTRUDE. Whatever on earth can you be going to tell me, Captain?
THE INCA. Madam, I am no captain. I–
ERMYNTRUDE. You are the Inca in disguise.
THE INCA. Good heavens! how do you know that? Who has betrayed me?
ERMYNTRUDE. How could I help divining it, Sir? Who is there in the world like you? Your magnetism–
THE INCA. True: I had forgotten my magnetism. But you know now that beneath the trappings of Imperial Majesty there is a Man: simple, frank, modest, unaffected, colloquial: a sincere friend, a natural human being, a genial comrade, one eminently calculated to make a woman happy. You, on the other hand, are the most charming woman I have ever met. Your conversation is wonderful. I have sat here almost in silence, listening to your shrewd and penetrating account of my character, my motives, if I may say so, my talents. Never has such justice been done me: never have I experienced such perfect sympathy. Will you–I hardly know how to put this–will you be mine?
ERMYNTRUDE. Oh, Sir, you are married.
THE INCA. I am prepared to embrace the Mahometan faith, which allows a man four wives, if you will consent. It will please the Turks. But I had rather you did not mention it to the Inca-ess. if you don’t mind.
ERMYNTRUDE. This is really charming of you. But the time has come for me to make a revelation. It is your Imperial Majesty’s turn now to brace yourself. To steel yourself. I am not the princess. I am–
THE INCA. The daughter of my old friend Archdeacon Daffodil Donkin, whose sermons are read to me every evening after dinner. I never forget a face.
ERMYNTRUDE. You knew all along!
THE INCA [bitterly, throwing himself into his chair]. And you supposed that I, who have been condemned to the society of princesses all my wretched life, believed for a moment that any princess that ever walked could have your intelligence!
ERMYNTRUDE. How clever of you, Sir! But you cannot afford to marry me.
THE INCA [springing up]. Why not?
ERMYNTRUDE. You are too poor. You have to eat war bread. Kings nowadays belong to the poorer classes. The King of England does not even allow himself wine at dinner.
THE INCA [delighted]. Haw! Ha ha! Haw! haw! [He is convulsed with laughter, and ,finally has to relieve his feelings by waltzing half round the room.]
ERMYNTRUDE. You may laugh, Sir; but I really could not live in that style. I am the widow of a millionaire, ruined by your little war.
THE INCA. A millionaire! What are millionaires now, with the world crumbling?
ERMYNTRUDE. Excuse me: mine was a hyphenated millionaire.
THE INCA. A highfalutin millionaire, you mean. [Chuckling]. Haw! ha ha! really very nearly a pun, that. [He sits down in her chair.]
ERMYNTRUDE [revolted, sinking into his chair]. I think it quite the worst pun I ever heard.
THE INCA. The best puns have all been made years ago: nothing remained but to achieve the worst. However, madam [he rises majestically; and she is about to rise also]. No: I prefer a seated audience [she falls back into her seat at the imperious wave of his hand]. So [he clicks his heels]. Madam, I recognize my presumption in having sought the honor of your hand. As you say, I cannot afford it. Victorious as I am, I am hopelessly bankrupt; and the worst of it is, I am intelligent enough to know it. And I shall be beaten in consequence, because my most implacable enemy, though only a few months further away from bankruptcy than myself, has not a ray of intelligence, and will go on fighting until civilization is destroyed, unless I, out of sheer pity for the world, condescend to capitulate.
ERMYNTRUDE. The sooner the better, Sir. Many fine young men are dying while you wait.
THE INCA [flinching painfully]. Why? Why do they do it?
ERMYNTRUDE. Because you make them.
THE INCA. Stuff! How can I? I am only one man; and they are millions. Do you suppose they would really kill each other if they didn’t want to, merely for the sake of my beautiful eyes? Do not be deceived by newspaper claptrap, madam. I was swept away by a passion not my own, which imposed itself on me. By myself I am nothing. I dare not walk down the principal street of my own capital in a coat two years old, though the sweeper of that street can wear one ten years old. You talk of death as an unpopular thing. You are wrong: for years I gave them art, literature, science, prosperity, that they might live more abundantly; and they hated me, ridiculed me, caricatured me. Now that I give them death in its frightfullest forms, they are devoted to me. If you doubt me, ask those who for years have begged our taxpayers in vain for a few paltry thousands to spend on Life: on the bodies and minds of the nation’s children, on the beauty and healthfulness of its cities, on the honor and comfort of its worn-out workers. They refused: and because they refused, death is let loose on them. They grudged a few hundreds a year for their salvation: they now pay millions a day for their own destruction and damnation. And this they call my doing! Let them say it, if they dare, before the judgment-seat at which they and I shall answer at last for what we have left undone no less than for what we have done. [Pulling himself together suddenly.] Madam, I have the honor to be your most obedient [he clicks his heels and bows].
ERMYNTRUDE. Sir! [She curtsies.]
THE INCA [turning at the door]. Oh, by the way, there is a princess, isn’t there, somewhere on the premises?
ERMYNTRUDE. There is. Shall I fetch her?
THE INCA [dubious], Pretty awful, I suppose, eh?
ERMYNTRUDE. About the usual thing.
THE INCA [sighing]. Ah well! What can one expect? I don’t think I need trouble her personally. Will you explain to her about the boys?
ERMYNTRUDE. I am afraid the explanation will fall rather flat without your magnetism.
THE INCA [returning to her and speaking very humanly]. You are making fun of me. Why does everybody make fun of me? Is it fair?
ERMYNTRUDE [seriously]. Yes, it is fair. What other defence have we poor common people against your shining armor, your mailed fist, your pomp and parade, your terrible power over us? Are these things fair?
THE INCA. Ah, well, perhaps, perhaps. [He looks at his watch.] By the way, there is time for a drive round the town and a cup of tea at the Zoo. Quite a bearable band there: it does not play any patriotic airs. I am sorry you will not listen to any more permanent arrangement; but if you would care to come–
ERMYNTRUDE [eagerly]. Ratherrrrrr. I shall be delighted.
THE INCA [cautiously]. In the strictest honor, you understand.
ERMYNTRUDE. Don’t be afraid. I promise to refuse any incorrect proposals.
THE INCA [enchanted]. Oh! Charming woman: how well you understand men!
He offers her his arm: they go out together.