Back to Methuselah eBook

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The oracle raises her hands to command silence.

ALL.  Sh-sh-sh!

Invisible trombones utter three solemn blasts in the manner of Die Zauberfloete.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  May I—­

ZOO [quickly] Hush.  The oracle is going to speak.

THE ORACLE.  Go home, poor fool.

She vanishes; and the atmosphere changes to prosaic daylight.  Zoo comes off the railing; throws off her robe; makes a bundle of it; and tucks it under her arm.  The magic and mystery are gone.  The women rise to their feet.  The Envoy’s party stare at one another helplessly.

ZOO.  The same reply, word for word, that your illustrious predecessor, as you call him, got fifteen years ago.  You asked for it; and you got it.  And just think of all the important questions you might have asked.  She would have answered them, you know.  It is always like that.  I will go and arrange to have you sent home:  you can wait for me in the entrance hall [she goes out].

THE ENVOY.  What possessed me to ask for the same answer old Eastwind got?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  But it was not the same answer.  The answer to Eastwind was an inspiration to our party for years.  It won us the election.

THE ENVOY’S DAUGHTER.  I learnt it at school, granpa.  It wasn’t the same at all.  I can repeat it. [She quotes] ’When Britain was cradled in the west, the east wind hardened her and made her great.  Whilst the east wind prevails Britain shall prosper.  The east wind shall wither Britain’s enemies in the day of contest.  Let the Rotterjacks look to it.’

THE ENVOY.  The old man invented that.  I see it all.  He was a doddering old ass when he came to consult the oracle.  The oracle naturally said ‘Go home, poor fool.’  There was no sense in saying that to me; but as that girl said, I asked for it.  What else could the poor old chap do but fake up an answer fit for publication?  There were whispers about it; but nobody believed them.  I believe them now.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  Oh, I cannot admit that Sir Fuller Eastwind was capable of such a fraud.

THE ENVOY.  He was capable of anything:  I knew his private secretary.  And now what are we going to say?  You don’t suppose I am going back to Baghdad to tell the British Empire that the oracle called me a fool, do you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  Surely we must tell the truth, however painful it may be to our feelings.

THE ENVOY.  I am not thinking of my feelings:  I am not so selfish as that, thank God.  I am thinking of the country:  of our party.  The truth, as you call it, would put the Rotterjacks in for the next twenty years.  It would be the end of me politically.  Not that I care for that:  I am only too willing to retire if you can find a better man.  Dont hesitate on my account.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  No, Ambrose:  you are indispensable.  There is no one else.

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