Great Catherine/The Second Scene

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Great Catherine by George Bernard Shaw
The Second Scene
The Empress's petit lever. The central doors are closed. Those who enter through them find on their left, on a dais of two broad steps, a magnificent curtained bed. Beyond it a door in the panelling leads to the Empress's cabinet. Near the foot of the bed, in the middle of the room, stands a gilt chair, with the Imperial arms carved and the Imperial monogram embroidered.
The Court is in attendance, standing in two melancholy rows down the side of the room opposite to the bed, solemn, bored, waiting for the Empress to awaken. The Princess Dashkoff, with two ladies, stands a little in front of the line of courtiers, by the Imperial chair. Silence, broken only by the yawns and whispers of the courtiers. Naryshkin, the Chamberlain, stands by the head of the bed.
A loud yawn is heard from behind the curtains.

NARYSHKIN [holding up a warning hand]. Ssh!

The courtiers hastily cease whispering: dress up their lines: and Naryshkin and the Princess solemnly draw them and reveal the Empress.
Catherine turns over on her back, and stretches herself.

CATHERINE [yawning]. Heigho—ah—yah—ah—ow—what o'clock is it? [Her accent is German.]

NARYSHKIN [formally]. Her Imperial Majesty is awake. [The Court falls on its knees.]

ALL. Good morning to your Majesty.

NARYSHKIN. Half-past ten, Little Mother.

CATHERINE [sitting up abruptly]. Potztausend! [Contemplating the kneeling courtiers.] Oh, get up, get up. [All rise.] Your etiquette bores me. I am hardly awake in the morning before it begins. [Yawning again, and relapsing sleepily against her pillows.] Why do they do it, Naryshkin?

NARYSHKIN. God knows it is not for your sake, Little Mother. But you see if you were not a great queen they would all be nobodies.

CATHERINE [sitting up]. They make me do it to keep up their own little dignities? So?

NARYSHKIN. Exactly. Also because if they didn't you might have them flogged, dear Little Mother.

CATHERINE [springing energetically out of bed and seating herself on the edge of it]. Flogged! I! A Liberal Empress! A philosopher! You are a barbarian, Naryshkin. [She rises and turns to the courtiers.] And then, as if I cared! [She turns again to Naryshkin.] You should know by this time that I am frank and original in character, like an Englishman. [She walks about restlessly.] No: what maddens me about all this ceremony is that I am the only person in Russia who gets no fun out of my being Empress. You all glory in me: you bask in my smiles: you get titles and honors and favors from me: you are dazzled by my crown and my robes: you feel splendid when you have been admitted to my presence; and when I say a gracious word to you, you talk about it to everyone you meet for a week afterwards. But what do I get out of it? Nothing. [She throws herself into the chair. Naryshkin deprecates with a gesture; she hurls an emphatic repetition at him.] Nothing!! I wear a crown until my neck aches: I stand looking majestic until I am ready to drop: I have to smile at ugly old ambassadors and frown and turn my back on young and handsome ones. Nobody gives me anything. When I was only an Archduchess, the English ambassador used to give me money whenever I wanted it—or rather whenever he wanted to get anything out of my sacred predecessor Elizabeth [the Court bows to the ground]; but now that I am Empress he never gives me a kopek. When I have headaches and colics I envy the scullerymaids. And you are not a bit grateful to me for all my care of you, my work, my thought, my fatigue, my sufferings.

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF. God knows, Little Mother, we all implore you to give your wonderful brain a rest. That is why you get headaches. Monsieur Voltaire also has headaches. His brain is just like yours.

CATHERINE. Dashkoff, what a liar you are! [Dashkoff curtsies with impressive dignity.] And you think you are flattering me! Let me tell you I would not give a rouble to have the brains of all the philosophers in France. What is our business for today?

NARYSHKIN. The new museum, Little Mother. But the model will not be ready until tonight.

CATHERINE [rising eagerly]. Yes, the museum. An enlightened capital should have a museum. [She paces the chamber with a deep sense of the importance of the museum.] It shall be one of the wonders of the world. I must have specimens: specimens, specimens, specimens.

NARYSHKIN. You are in high spirits this morning, Little Mother.

CATHERINE [with sudden levity.] I am always in high spirits, even when people do not bring me my slippers. [She runs to the chair and sits down, thrusting her feet out.]

The two ladies rush to her feet, each carrying a slipper. Catherine, about to put her feet into them, is checked by a disturbance in the antechamber.

PATIOMKIN [carrying Edstaston through the antechamber]. Useless to struggle. Come along, beautiful baby darling. Come to Little Mother. [He sings.]

March him baby,
Baby, baby,
Lit-tle ba-by bumpkins.

VARINKA [joining in to the same doggerel in canon, a third above]. March him, baby, etc., etc.

EDSTASTON [trying to make himself heard]. No, no. This is carrying a joke too far. I must insist. Let me down! Hang it, will you let me down! Confound it! No, no. Stop playing the fool, will you? We don't understand this sort of thing in England. I shall be disgraced. Let me down.

CATHERINE [meanwhile]. What a horrible noise! Naryshkin, see what it is.

Naryshkin goes to the door.

CATHERINE [listening]. That is Prince Patiomkin.

NARYSHKIN [calling from the door]. Little Mother, a stranger.

Catherine plunges into bed again and covers herself up. Patiomkin, followed by Varinka, carries Edstaston in: dumps him down on the foot of the bed: and staggers past it to the cabinet door. Varinka joins the courtiers at the opposite side of the room. Catherine, blazing with wrath, pushes Edstaston off her bed on to the floor: gets out of bed: and turns on Patiomkin with so terrible an expression that all kneel down hastily except Edstaston, who is sprawling on the carpet in angry confusion.

CATHERINE. Patiomkin, how dare you? [Looking at Edstaston.] What is this?

PATIOMKIN [on his knees, tearfully]. I don't know. I am drunk. What is this, Varinka?

EDSTASTON [scrambling to his feet]. Madam, this drunken ruffian—

PATIOMKIN. Thas true. Drungn ruffian. Took dvantage of my being drunk. Said: take me to Lil angel Mother. Take me to beaufl Empress. Take me to the grea'st woman on earth. Thas whas he he said. I took him. I was wrong. I am not sober.

CATHERINE. Men have grown sober in Siberia for less, Prince.

PATIOMKIN. Serve em right! Sgusting habit. Ask Varinka.

Catherine turns her face from him to the Court. The courtiers see that she is trying not to laugh, and know by experience that she will not succeed. They rise, relieved and grinning.

VARINKA. It is true. He drinks like a pig.

PATIOMKIN [plaintively]. No: not like pig. Like prince. Lil Mother made poor Patiomkin prince. Whas use being prince if I mayn't drink?

CATHERINE [biting her lips]. Go. I am offended.

PATIOMKIN. Don't scold, Lil Mother.

CATHERINE [imperiously]. Go.

PATIOMKIN [rising unsteadily]. Yes: go. Go bye bye. Very sleepy. Berr go bye bye than go Siberia. Go bye bye in Lil Mother's bed [he pretends to make an attempt to get into the bed].

CATHERINE [energetically pulling him back]. No, no! Patiomkin! What are you thinking of? [He falls like a log on the floor, apparently dead drunk.]

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF. Scandalous! An insult to your Imperial Majesty!

CATHERINE. Dashkoff: you have no sense of humor. [She steps down to the door level and looks indulgently at Patiomkin. He gurgles brutishly. She has an impulse of disgust.] Hog. [She kicks him as hard as she can.] Oh! You have broken my toe. Brute. Beast. Dashkoff is quite right. Do you hear?

PATIOMKIN. If you ask my pi-pinion of Dashkoff, my pipinion is that Dashkoff is drunk. Scanlous. Poor Patiomkin go bye bye. [He relapses into drunken slumbers.]

Some of the courtiers move to carry him away.

CATHERINE [stopping them]. Let him lie. Let him sleep it off. If he goes out it will be to a tavern and low company for the rest of the day. [Indulgently.] There! [She takes a pillow from the bed and puts it under his head: then turns to Edstaston: surveys him with perfect dignity: and asks, in her queenliest manner.] Varinka, who is this gentleman?

VARINKA. A foreign captain: I cannot pronounce his name. I think is mad. He came to the Prince and said he must see your Majesty. He can talk of nothing else. We could not prevent him.

EDSTASTON [overwhelmed by this apparent betrayal]. Oh! Madam: I am perfectly sane: I am actually an Englishman. I should never have dreamt of approaching your Majesty without the fullest credentials. I have letters from the English ambassador, from the Prussian ambassador. [Naively.] But everybody assured me that Prince Patiomkm is all-powerful with your Majesty; so I naturally applied to him.

PATIOMKIN [interrupts the conversation by an agonized wheezing groan as of a donkey beginning to bray]!!!

CATHERINE [like a fishfag]. Schweig, du Hund. [Resuming her impressive royal manner.] Have you never been taught, sir, how a gentleman should enter the presence of a sovereign?

EDSTASTON. Yes, Madam; but I did not enter your presence: I was carried.

CATHERINE. But you say you asked the Prince to carry you.

EDSTASTON. Certainly not, Madam. I protested against it with all my might. I appeal to this lady to confirm me.

VARINKA [pretending to be indignant]. Yes, you protested. But, all the same, you were very very very anxious to see her Imperial Majesty. You blushed when the Prince spoke of her. You threatened to strike him across the face with your sword because you thought e did not speak enthusiastically enough of her. [To Catherine.] Trust me: he has seen your Imperial Majesty before.

CATHERINE [to Edstaston]. You have seen us before?

EDSTASTON. At the review, Madam.

VARINKA [triumphantly]. Aha! I knew it. Your Majesty wore the hussar uniform. He saw how radiant! how splendid! your Majesty looked. Oh! he has dared to admire your Majesty. Such insolence is not to be endured.

EDSTASTON. All Europe is a party to that insolence, Madam.

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF. All Europe is content to do so at a respectful distance. It is possible to admire her Majesty's policy and her eminence in literature and philosophy without performing acrobatic feats in the Imperial bed.

EDSTASTON. I know nothing about her Majesty's eminence in policy or philosophy: I don't pretend to understand such things. I speak as a practical man. And I never knew that foreigners had any policy: I always thought that policy was Mr. Pitt's business.

CATHERINE [lifting her eyebrows]. So?

VARINKA. What else did you presume to admire her Majesty for, pray?

EDSTASTON [addled]. Well, I—I—I—that is, I—[He stammers himself dumb.]

CATHERINE [after a pitiless silence]. We are waiting for your answer.

EDSTASTON. But I never said I admired your Majesty. The lady has twisted my words.

VARINKA. You don't admire her, then?

EDSTASTON. Well, I—naturally—of course, I can't deny that the uniform was very becoming—perhaps a little unfeminine—still-

Dead silence. Catherine and the Court watch him stonily. He is wretchedly embarrassed.

CATHERINE [with cold majesty]. Well, sir: is that all you have to say?

EDSTASTON. Surely there is no harm in noticing that er—that er—[He stops again.]

CATHERINE. Noticing that er—? [He gazes at her, speechless, like a fascinated rabbit. She repeats fiercely.] That er—?

EDSTASTON [startled into speech]. Well, that your Majesty was— was—[soothingly] Well, let me put it this way: that it was rather natural for a man to admire your Majesty without being a philosopher.

CATHERINE [suddenly smiling and extending her hand to him to be kissed]. Courtier!

EDSTASTON [kissing it]. Not at all. Your Majesty is very good. I have been very awkward; but I did not intend it. I am rather stupid, I am afraid.

CATHERINE. Stupid! By no means. Courage, Captain: we are pleased. [He falls on his knee. She takes his cheeks in her hands: turns up his face: and adds] We are greatly pleased. [She slaps his cheek coquettishly: he bows almost to his knee.] The petit lever is over. [She turns to go into the cabinet, and stumbles against the supine Patiomkin.] Ach! [Edstaston springs to her assistance, seizing Patiomkin's heels and shifting him out of the Empress's path.] We thank you, Captain.

He bows gallantly and is rewarded by a very gracious smile. Then Catherine goes into her cabinet, followed by the princess Dashkoff, who turns at the door to make a deep courtsey to  Edstaston.

VARINKA. Happy Little Father! Remember: I did this for you. [She runs out after the Empress.]

Edstaston, somewhat dazed, crosses the room to the courtiers, and is received with marked deference, each courtier making him a profound bow or curtsey before withdrawing through the central doors. He returns each obeisance with a nervous jerk, and turns away from it, only to find another courtier bowing at the other side. The process finally reduced him to distraction, as he bumps into one in the act of bowing to another and then has to bow his apologies. But at last they are all gone except Naryshkin.

EDSTASTON. Ouf!

PATIOMKIN [jumping up vigorously]. You have done it, darling. Superbly! Beautifully!

EDSTASTON [astonished]. Do you mean to say you are not drunk?

PATIOMKIN. Not dead drunk, darling. Only diplomatically drunk. As a drunken hog, I have done for you in five minutes what I could not have done in five months as a sober man. Your fortune is made. She likes you.

EDSTASTON. The devil she does!

PATIOMKIN. Why? Aren't you delighted?

EDSTASTON. Delighted! Gracious heavens, man, I am engaged to be married.

PATIOMKIN. What matter? She is in England, isn't she?

EDSTASTON. No. She has just arrived in St. Petersburg.

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF [returning]. Captain Edstaston, the Empress is robed, and commands your presence.

EDSTASTON. Say I was gone before you arrived with the message. [He hurries out. The other three, too taken aback to stop him, stare after him in the utmost astonishment.]

NARYSHKIN [turning from the door]. She will have him knouted. He is a dead man.

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF. But what am I to do? I cannot take such an answer to the Empress.

PATIOMKIN. P-P-P-P-P-P-W-W-W-W-W-rrrrrr [a long puff, turning into a growl]! [He spits.] I must kick somebody.

NARYSHKIN [flying precipitately through the central doors]. No, no. Please.

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF [throwing herself recklessly in front of Patiomkin as he starts in pursuit of the Chamberlain]. Kick me. Disable me. It will be an excuse for not going back to her. Kick me hard.

PATIOMKIN. Yah! [He flings her on the bed and dashes after Naryshkin.]