Great Catherine/The Fourth Scene

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Great Catherine by George Bernard Shaw
The Fourth Scene
A triangular recess communicating by a heavily curtained arch with the huge ballroom of the palace. The light is subdued by red shades on the candles. In the wall adjoining that pierced by the arch is a door. The only piece of furniture is a very handsome chair on the arch side. In the ballroom they are dancing a polonaise to the music of a brass band.
Naryshkin enters through the door, followed by the soldiers carrying Edstaston, still trussed to the pole. Exhausted and dogged, he makes no sound.

NARYSHKIN. Halt. Get that pole clear of the prisoner. [They dump Edstaston on the floor and detach the pole. Naryshkin stoops over him and addresses him insultingly.] Well! are you ready to be tortured? This is the Empress's private torture chamber. Can I do anything to make you quite comfortable? You have only to mention it.

EDSTASTON. Have you any back teeth?

NARYSHKIN. [surprised] Why?

EDSTASTON. His Majesty King George the Third will send for six of them when the news of this reaches London; so look out, damn your eyes!

NARYSHKIN [frightened]. Oh, I assure you I am only obeying my orders. Personally I abhor torture, and would save you if I could. But the Empress is proud; and what woman would forgive the slight you put upon her?

EDSTASTON. As I said before: Damn your eyes!

NARYSHKIN [almost in tears]. Well, it isn't my fault. [To the soldiers, insolently.] You know your orders? You remember what you have to do when the Empress gives you the word? [The soldiers salute in assent.]

Naryshkin passes through the curtains, admitting a blare of music and a strip of the brilliant white candlelight from the chandeliers in the ballroom as he does so. The white light vanishes and the music is muffled as the curtains fall together behind him. Presently the band stops abruptly: and Naryshkin comes back through the curtains. He makes a warning gesture to the soldiers, who stand at attention. Then he moves the curtain to allow Catherine to enter. She is in full Imperial regalia, and stops sternly just where she has entered. The soldiers fall on  their knees.

CATHERINE. Obey your orders.

The soldiers seize Edstaston, and throw him roughly at the feet of the Empress.

CATHERINE [looking down coldly on him]. Also [the German word], you have put me to the trouble of sending for you twice. You had better have come the first time.

EDSTASTON [exsufflicate, and pettishly angry]. I haven't come either time. I've been carried. I call it infernal impudence.

CATHERINE. Take care what you say.

EDSTASTON. No use. I daresay you look very majestic and very handsome; but I can't see you; and I am not intimidated. I am an Englishman; and you can kidnap me; but you can't bully me.

NARYSHKIN. Remember to whom you are speaking.

CATHERINE [violently, furious at his intrusion]. Remember that dogs should be dumb. [He shrivels.] And do you, Captain, remember that famous as I am for my clemency, there are limits to the patience even of an Empress.

EDSTASTON. How is a man to remember anything when he is trussed up in this ridiculous fashion? I can hardly breathe. [He makes a futile struggle to free himself.] Here: don't be unkind, your Majesty: tell these fellows to unstrap me. You know you really owe me an apology.

CATHERINE. You think you can escape by appealing, like Prince Patiomkin, to my sense of humor?

EDSTASTON. Sense of humor! Ho! Ha, ha! I like that. Would anybody with a sense of humor make a guy of a man like this, and then expect him to take it seriously? I say: do tell them to loosen these straps.

CATHERINE [seating herself]. Why should I, pray?

EDSTASTON. Why! Why! Why, because they're hurting me.

CATHERINE. People sometimes learn through suffering. Manners, for instance.

EDSTASTON. Oh, well, of course, if you're an ill-natured woman, hurting me on purpose, I have nothing more to say.

CATHERINE. A monarch, sir, has sometimes to employ a necessary, and salutary severity—

EDSTASTON [Interrupting her petulantly]. Quack! quack! quack!

CATHERINE. Donnerwetter!

EDSTASTON [continuing recklessly]. This isn't severity: it's tomfoolery. And if you think it's reforming my character or teaching me anything, you're mistaken. It may be a satisfaction to you; but if it is, all I can say is that it's not an amiable satisfaction.

CATHERINE [turning suddenly and balefully on Naryshkin]. What are you grinning at?

NARYSHKIN [falling on his knees in terror]. Be merciful, Little Mother. My heart is in my mouth.

CATHERINE. Your heart and your mouth will be in two separate parts of your body if you again forget in whose presence you stand. Go. And take your men with you. [Naryshkin crawls to the door. The soldiers rise.] Stop. Roll that [indicating Edstaston] nearer. [The soldiers obey.] Not so close. Did I ask you for a footstool? [She pushes Edstaston away with her foot.]

EDSTASTON [with a sudden squeal]. Agh!!! I must really ask your Majesty not to put the point of your Imperial toe between my ribs. I am ticklesome.

CATHERINE. Indeed? All the more reason for you to treat me with respect, Captain. [To the others.] Begone. How many times must I give an order before it is obeyed?

NARYSHKIN. Little Mother: they have brought some instruments of torture. Will they be needed?

CATHERINE [indignantly]. How dare you name such abominations to a Liberal Empress? You will always be a savage and a fool, Naryshkin. These relics of barbarism are buried, thank God, in the grave of Peter the Great. My methods are more civilized. [She extends her toe towards Edstaston's ribs.]

EDSTASTON [shrieking hysterically]. Yagh! Ah! [Furiously.] If your Majesty does that again I will write to the London Gazette.

CATHERINE [to the soldiers]. Leave us. Quick! do you hear? Five thousand blows of the stick for the soldier who is in the room when I speak next. [The soldiers rush out.] Naryshkin: are you waiting to be knouted? [Naryshkin backs out hastily.]

Catherine and Edstaston are now alone. Catherine has in her hand a sceptre or baton of gold. Wrapped round it is a new pamphlet, in French, entitled L'Homme aux Quarante Ecus. She calmly unrolls this and begins to read it at her ease as if she were quite alone. Several seconds elapse in dead silence. She becomes more and more absorbed in the pamphlet, and more and more amused by it.

CATHERINE [greatly pleased by a passage, and turning over the leaf]]. Ausgezeiehnet!

EDSTASTON. Ahem!

Silence. Catherine reads on.

CATHERINE. Wie komisch!

EDSTASTON. Ahem! ahem!

Silence.

CATHERINE [soliloquizing enthusiastically]. What a wonderful author is Monsieur Voltaire! How lucidly he exposes the folly of this crazy plan for raising the entire revenue of the country from a single tax on land! how he withers it with his irony! how he makes you laugh whilst he is convincing you! how sure one feels that the proposal is killed by his wit and economic penetration: killed never to be mentioned again among educated people!

EDSTASTON. For Heaven's sake, Madam, do you intend to leave me tied up like this while you discuss the blasphemies of that abominable infidel? Agh!! [She has again applied her toe.] Oh! Oo!

CATHERINE [calmly]. Do I understand you to say that Monsieur Voltaire is a great philanthropist and a great philosopher as well as the wittiest man in Europe?

EDSTASTON. Certainly not. I say that his books ought to be burnt by the common hangman [her toe touches his ribs]. Yagh! Oh don't. I shall faint. I can't bear it.

CATHERINE. Have you changed your opinion of Monsieur Voltaire?

EDSTASTON. But you can't expect me as a member of the Church of England [she tickles him] —agh! Ow! Oh Lord! he is anything you like. He is a philanthropist, a philosopher, a beauty: he ought to have a statue, damn him! [she tickles him]. No! bless him! save him victorious, happy and glorious! Oh, let eternal honors crown his name: Voltaire thrice worthy on the rolls of fame! [Exhausted.] Now will you let me up? And look here! I can see your ankles when you tickle me: it's not ladylike.

CATHERINE [sticking out her toe and admiring it critically]. Is the spectacle so disagreeable?

EDSTASTON. It's agreeable enough; only [with intense expression] for heaven's sake don't touch me in the ribs.

CATHERINE [putting aside the pamphlet]. Captain Edstaston, why did you refuse to come when I sent for you?

EDSTASTON. Madam, I cannot talk tied up like this.

CATHERINE. Do you still admire me as much as you did this morning?

EDSTASTON. How can I possibly tell when I can't see you? Let me get up and look. I can't see anything now except my toes and yours.

CATHERINE. Do you still intend to write to the London Gazette about me?

EDSTASTON. Not if you will loosen these straps. Quick: loosen me. I'm fainting.

CATHERINE. I don't think you are [tickling him].

EDSTASTON. Agh! Cat!

CATHERINE. What [she tickles him again].

EDSTASTON [with a shriek]. No: angel, angel!

CATHERINE [tenderly]. Geliebter!

EDSTASTON. I don't know a word of German; but that sounded kind. [Becoming hysterical.] Little Mother, beautiful little darling angel mother: don't be cruel: untie me. Oh, I beg and implore you. Don't be unkind. I shall go mad.

CATHERINE. You are expected to go mad with love when an Empress deigns to interest herself in you. When an Empress allows you to see her foot you should kiss it. Captain Edstaston, you are a booby.

EDSTASTON [indignantly]. I am nothing of the kind. I have been mentioned in dispatches as a highly intelligent officer. And let me warn your Majesty that I am not so helpless as you think. The English Ambassador is in that ballroom. A shout from me will bring him to my side; and then where will your Majesty be?

CATHERINE. I should like to see the English Ambassador or anyone else pass through that curtain against my orders. It might be a stone wall ten feet thick. Shout your loudest. Sob. Curse. Scream. Yell [she tickles him unmercifully].

EDSTASTON [frantically]. Ahowyou!!!! Agh! oh! Stop! Oh Lord! Ya-a-a-ah! [A tumult in the ballroom responds to his cries].

VOICES FROM THE BALLROOM. Stand back. You cannot pass. Hold her back there. The Empress's orders. It is out of the question. No, little darling, not in there. Nobody is allowed in there. You will be sent to Siberia. Don't let her through there, on your life. Drag her back. You will be knouted. It is hopeless, Mademoiselle: you must obey orders. Guard there! Send some men to hold her.

CLAIRE'S VOICE. Let me go. They are torturing Charles in there. I WILL go. How can you all dance as if nothing was happening? Let me go, I tell you. Let—me—go. [She dashes through the curtain, no one dares follow her.]

CATHERINE [rising in wrath]. How dare you?

CLAIRE [recklessly]. Oh, dare your grandmother! Where is my Charles? What are they doing to him?

EDSTASTON [shouting]. Claire, loosen these straps, in Heaven's name. Quick.

CLAIRE [seeing him and throwing herself on her knees at his side]. Oh, how dare they tie you up like that! [To Catherine.] You wicked wretch! You Russian savage! [She pounces on the straps, and begins unbuckling them.]

CATHERINE [conquering herself with a mighty effort]. Now self-control. Self-control, Catherine. Philosophy. Europe is looking on. [She forces herself to sit down.]

EDSTASTON. Steady, dearest: it is the Empress. Call her your Imperial Majesty. Call her Star of the North, Little Mother, Little Darling: that's what she likes; but get the straps off.

CLAIRE. Keep quiet, dear: I cannot get them off if you move.

CATHERINE [calmly]. Keep quite still, Captain [she tickles him.]

EDSTASTON. Ow! Agh! Ahowyow!

CLAIRE [stopping dead in the act of unbuckling the straps and turning sick with jealousy as she grasps the situation]. Was THAT what I thought was your being tortured?

CATHERINE [urbanely]. That is the favorite torture of Catherine the Second, Mademoiselle. I think the Captain enjoys it very much.

CLAIRE. Then he can have as much more of it as he wants. I am sorry I intruded. [She rises to go.]

EDSTASTON [catching her train in his teeth and holding on like a bull-dog]. Don't go. Don't leave me in this horrible state. Loosen me. [This is what he is saying: but as he says it with the train in his mouth it is not very intelligible.]

CLAIRE. Let go. You are undignified and ridiculous enough yourself without making me ridiculous. [She snatches her train away.]

EDSTASTON. Ow! You've nearly pulled my teeth out: you're worse than the Star of the North. [To Catherine.] Darling Little Mother: you have a kind heart, the kindest in Europe. Have pity. Have mercy. I love you. [Claire bursts into tears.] Release me.

CATHERINE. Well, just to show you how much kinder a Russian savage can be than an English one [though I am sorry to say I am a German) here goes! [She stoops to loosen the straps.]

CLAIRE [jealously]. You needn't trouble, thank you. [She pounces on the straps: and the two set Edstaston free between them.] Now get up, please; and conduct yourself with some dignity if you are not utterly demoralized.

EDSTASTON. Dignity! Ow! I can't. I'm stiff all over. I shall never be able to stand up again. Oh Lord! how it hurts! [They seize him by the shoulders and drag him up.] Yah! Agh! Wow! Oh! Mmmmmm! Oh, Little Angel Mother, don't ever do this to a man again. Knout him; kill him; roast him; baste him; head, hang, and quarter him; but don't tie him up like that and tickle him.

CATHERINE. Your young lady still seems to think that you enjoyed it.

CLAIRE. I know what I think. I will never speak to him again. Your Majesty can keep him, as far as I am concerned.

CATHERINE. I would not deprive you of him for worlds; though really I think he's rather a darling [she pats his cheek].

CLAIRE [snorting]. So I see, indeed.

EDSTASTON. Don't be angry, dearest: in this country everybody's a darling. I'll prove it to you. [To Catherine.] Will your Majesty be good enough to call Prince Patiomkin?

CATHERINE [surprised into haughtiness]. Why?

EDSTASTON. To oblige me.

Catherine laughs good-humoredly and goes to the curtains and opens them. The band strikes up a Redowa.

CATHERINE [calling imperiously]. Patiomkin! [The music stops suddenly.] Here! To me! Go on with your music there, you fools. [The Redowa is resumed.]

The sergeant rushes from the ballroom to relieve the Empress of the curtain. Patiomkin comes in dancing with Yarinka.

CATHERINE [to Patiomkin]. The English captain wants you, little darling.

Catherine resumes her seat as Patiomkin intimates by a grotesque bow that he is at Edstaston's service. Yarinka passes behind Edstaston and Claire, and posts herself on Claire's right.

EDSTASTON. Precisely. [To Claire. ] You observe, my love: "little darling." Well, if her Majesty calls him a darling, is it my fault that she calls me one too?

CLAIRE. I don't care: I don't think you ought to have done it. I am very angry and offended.

EDSTASTON. They tied me up, dear. I couldn't help it. I fought for all I was worth.

THE SERGEANT [at the curtains]. He fought with the strength of lions and bears. God knows I shall carry a broken sweetbread to my grave.

EDSTASTON. You can't mean to throw me over, Claire. [Urgently.] Claire. Claire.

VARINKA [in a transport of sympathetic emotion, pleading with clasped hands to Claire]. Oh, sweet little angel lamb, he loves you: it shines in his darling eyes. Pardon him, pardon him.

PATIOMKIN [rushing from the Empress's side to Claire and falling on his knees to her]. Pardon him, pardon him, little cherub! little wild duck! little star! little glory! little jewel in the crown of heaven!

CLAIRE. This is perfectly ridiculous.

VARINKA [kneeling to her]. Pardon him, pardon him, little delight, little sleeper in a rosy cradle.

CLAIRE. I'll do anything if you'll only let me alone.

THE SERGEANT. [kneeling to her] Pardon him, pardon him, lest the mighty man bring his whip to you. God knows we all need pardon!

CLAIRE. [at the top of her voice] I pardon him! I pardon him!

PATIOMKIN. [springing up joyfully and going behind Claire, whom he raises in his arms] Embrace her, victor of Bunker's Hill. Kiss her till she swoons.

THE SERGEANT. Receive her in the name of the holy Nicholas.

VARINKA. She begs you for a thousand dear little kisses all over her body.

CLAIRE. [vehemently]. I do not. [Patiomkin throws her into Edstaston's arms.] Oh! [The pair, awkward and shamefaced, recoil from one another, and remain utterly inexpressive.]

CATHERINE [pushing Edstaston towards Claire] There is no help for it, Captain. This is Russia, not England.

EDSTASTON [plucking up some geniality, and kissing Claire ceremoniously on the brow]. I have no objection.

VARINKA. [disgusted] Only one kiss! and on the forehead! Fish. See how I kiss, though it is only my horribly ugly old uncle [she throws her arms round Patiomkin's neck and covers his face with kisses].

THE SERGEANT. [moved to tears] Sainted Nicholas: bless your lambs!

CATHERINE. Do you wonder now that I love Russia as I love no other place on earth?

NARYSHKIN. [appearing at the door]. Majesty: the model for the new museum has arrived.

CATHERINE. [rising eagerly and making for the curtains] Let us go. I can think of nothing but my museum. [In the archway she stops and turns to Edstaston, who has hurried to lift the curtain for her.] Captain, I wish you every happiness that your little angel can bring you. [For his ear alone.] I could have brought you more; but you did not think so. Farewell.

EDSTASTON [kissing her hand, which, instead of releasing, he holds caressingly and rather patronizingly in his own]. I feel your Majesty's kindness so much that I really cannot leave you without a word of plain wholesome English advice.

CATHERINE snatching her hand away and bounding forward as if he had touched her with a spur]. Advice!!!

PATIOMKIN. Madman: take care!

NARYSHKIN. Advise the Empress!!

THE SERGEANT. Sainted Nicholas!

VARINKA. Hoo hoo! [a stifled splutter of laughter].

EDSTASTON. [following the Empress and resuming kindly but judicially] After all, though your Majesty is of course a great queen, yet when all is said, I am a man; and your Majesty is only a woman.

CATHERINE. Only a wo— [she chokes].

EDSTASTON [continuing]. Believe me, this Russian extravagance will not do. I appreciate as much as any man the warmth of heart that prompts it; but it is overdone: it is hardly in the best taste: it is really I must say it—it is not proper.

CATHERINE [ironically, in German]. So!

EDSTASTON. Not that I cannot make allowances. Your Majesty has, I know, been unfortunate in your experience as a married woman—

CATHERINE [furious]. Alle Wetter!!!

EDSTASTON [sentimentally]. Don't say that. Don't think of him in that way. After all, he was your husband; and whatever his faults may have been, it is not for you to think unkindly of him.

CATHERINE [almost bursting]. I shall forget myself.

EDSTASTON. Come! I am sure he really loved you; and you truly loved him.

CATHERINE [controlling herself with a supreme effort]. No, Catherine. What would Voltaire say?

EDSTASTON. Oh, never mind that vile scoffer. Set an example to Europe, Madam, by doing what I am going to do. Marry again. Marry some good man who will be a strength and support to your old age.

CATHERINE. My old—[she again becomes speechless].

EDSTASTON. Yes: we must all grow old, even the handsomest of us.

CATHERINE [sinking into her chair with a gasp]. Thank you.

EDSTASTON. You will thank me more when you see your little ones round your knee, and your man there by the fireside in the winter evenings—by the way, I forgot that you have no fireside here in spite of the coldness of the climate; so shall I say by the stove?

CATHERINE. Certainly, if you wish. The stove by all means.

EDSTASTON [impulsively]. Ah, Madam, abolish the stove: believe me, there is nothing like the good old open grate. Home! duty! happiness! they all mean the same thing; and they all flourish best on the drawing-room hearthrug. [Turning to Claire.] And now, my love, we must not detain the Queen: she is anxious to inspect the model of her museum, to which I am sure we wish every success.

CLAIRE [coldly]. I am not detaining her.

EDSTASTON. Well, goodbye [wringing Patiomkin's hand, goo-oo-oodbye, Prince: come and see us if ever you visit England. Spire View, Deepdene, Little Mugford, Devon, will always find me. [To Yarinka, kissing her hand.] Goodbye, Mademoiselle: goodbye, Little Mother, if I may call you that just once. [Varinka puts up her face to be kissed.] Eh? No, no, no, no: you don't mean that, you know. Naughty! [To the Sergeant.] Goodbye, my friend. You will drink our healths with this [tipping him].

THE SERGEANT. The blessed Nicholas will multiply your fruits, Little Father.

EDSTASTON. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

He goes out backwards, bowing, with Claire curtseying, having been listened to in utter dumbfoundedness by Patiomkin and Naryshkin, in childlike awe by Yarinka, and with quite

inexpressible feelings by Catherine. When he is out of sight she rises with clinched fists and raises her arms and her closed eyes to Heaven. Patiomkin: rousing himself from his stupor of amazement, springs to her like a tiger, and throws himself at her feet.

PATIOMKIN. What shall I do to him for you? Skin him alive? Cut off his eyelids and stand him in the sun? Tear his tongue out? What shall it be?

CATHERINE [opening her eyes]. Nothing. But oh, if I could only have had him for my—for my—for my—

PATIOMKIN [in a growl of jealousy]. For your lover?

CATHERINE [with an ineffable smile]. No: for my museum.

THE END