Back to Methuselah eBook

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THE ENVOY.  Very well, then.  What are you going to do?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  My dear Ambrose, you are the leader of the party, not I. What are you going to do?

THE ENVOY.  I am going to tell the exact truth; thats what I’m going to do.  Do you take me for a liar?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [puzzled] Oh.  I beg your pardon.  I understood you to say—­

THE ENVOY [cutting him short] You understood me to say that I am going back to Baghdad to tell the British electorate that the oracle repeated to me, word for word, what it said to Sir Fuller Eastwind fifteen years ago.  Molly and Ethel can bear me out.  So must you, if you are an honest man.  Come on.

He goes out, followed by his wife and daughter.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [left alone and shrinking into an old and desolate figure] What am I to do?  I am a most perplexed and wretched man. [He falls on his knees, and stretches his hands in entreaty over the abyss].  I invoke the oracle.  I cannot go back and connive at a blasphemous lie.  I implore guidance.

The Pythoness walks in on the gallery behind him, and touches him on the shoulder.  Her size is now natural.  Her face is hidden by her hood.  He flinches as if from an electric shock; turns to her; and cowers, covering his eyes in terror.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  No:  not close to me.  I’m afraid I can’t bear it.

THE ORACLE [with grave pity] Come:  look at me.  I am my natural size now:  what you saw there was only a foolish picture of me thrown on a cloud by a lantern.  How can I help you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  They have gone back to lie about your answer.  I cannot go with them.  I cannot live among people to whom nothing is real.  I have become incapable of it through my stay here.  I implore to be allowed to stay.

THE ORACLE.  My friend:  if you stay with us you will die of discouragement.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  If I go back I shall die of disgust and despair.  I take the nobler risk.  I beg you, do not cast me out.

He catches her robe and holds her.

THE ORACLE.  Take care.  I have been here one hundred and seventy years. 
Your death does not mean to me what it means to you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  It is the meaning of life, not of death, that makes banishment so terrible to me.

THE ORACLE.  Be it so, then.  You may stay.

She offers him her hands.  He grasps them and raises himself a little by clinging to her.  She looks steadily into his face.  He stiffens; a little convulsion shakes him; his grasp relaxes; and he falls dead.

THE ORACLE [looking down at the body] Poor shortlived thing!  What else could I do for you?

PART V.

As Far as Thought can Reach

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