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vellous! How trooly magical! This is indeed the highest privilege your friendship has ever granted me! The hidden enigmas underlying your Ballet of the Nations! The dessous des cartes, as French orators say! The Immortals at their work! For that, I take it, is the meaning of the mysterious inscription on your wonder-working machine! Quidquid delirant reges plectuntur Achivi, is it not ? Or, in more modern language, that the million-headed crowd exists only to carry out the will of a half-dozen Supermen.
SATAN. It is as you say, dear much-experienced Recorder of the World’s Calamities. What you are going to see and hear are indeed Supermen; say, rather, the mortal Gods in my little machine of myriad-fold death and ruin. In other words, the Heads of the Nations. For it can scarcely have escaped your acumen that what passed muster for such during my Ballet, and rolled about on the shoulders of the Dancing Nations, could be only cardboard masks. These are the Real Ones, the Masters of Men’s Destiny, even if not always of royal birth or Cabinet rank; sometimes mere humble specimens of the Investor, the Homo (Economicus who sways the modern world.
The MUsE clasps her hands and wags her head in delight too deep for words ; the AoEs-To-CoME nudge one another. SATAN switches the current on to the cinematograph and gramophone, which work in concert after a preliminary wheeze and clatter and a corresponding flicker and blur.
Views of buildings, rather out of perspective, jerk across the screen. People come in and out, presenting more of their boot-solesthan one usually sees ; and voices gabble nasally on the gramophone. However, as the double apparatus, and also the attention of the spectators, work more steadily, we become aware of a succession, brief but clear, of interiors.‘ public offices, newspaper sanctums, embassy reception-rooms, sometimes even quite humble private houses; also committee tables and banqueting tables, with people discussing or speechifying ; lobbies in various countries, club-rooms and Houses of Parliament and Senates in different parts of the globe. They are full of figures in groups of twos and threes, going in and out, sometimes arm-in-arm, standing in front of fireplaces or before drinking-bars, or else dictating at office-desks Most frequently, perhaps, dining and playing bridge, and almost always smoking. These figures are mainly masculine, elderly, often bald, and not always very dignified ,some in uniform, some in plain clothes. They are very busy doing nothing in particular. Similarly, they talk a great deal, with significant pauses and interruptions, but all they say is entirely allusive and disjointed, referring to something else which we have not heard, and tailing off into something we do not hear. The action, if it may be called action, like the talking, is a perpetual shuffle from place to place and topic to topic. One can see occasional significant gestures accompanied by insignificant words. But the main impression is of sentences like “ Well, yes,” “ I always said as much,” “ To be sure,” “ Bien entendu,” “ Something may have to be done,” “ Things seem to be coming to a head,” “ We shall have to decide ”; the whole being interspersed with a good deal of very friendly laughter. The MUsE and AGEs-TO-COME slowly pass from excitement to mystification, then boredom and ill-concealed disappointment.
THE MUsE. Ah! Ah, indeed—ah,Isee. Just so! Exactly!
These exclamations, fewer and further between, are the MUsE’s answer to occasional isolated words like “Balance of Power,” “ Two keels to one,” “ Budget,” “ Loan,” “ Concessions,” “ Open door,” “ Railways,” “ Conscription,” “ Morocco,” “ Persia,” “ Baghdad,” “ Money
markets ”; none of which words, however, lead to anything intelligible. Gradually the Mom gets to look horribly depressed, then angry, much to the amusement of SATAN, who is watching her face. He suddenly switches off the current; the gramophone wheezes, the screen becomes blank. Like a person at a concert, the MUsE snatches this opportunity to turn round, draw her draperies over her head, and say .'
THE MUsE. Quite so, I understand. Most remarkable, I’m sure. Thank you, dear Lord Satan. But I fear the Ages-toCome and I must now be saying good-bye and going on.
The MUSE extends her hand very frigidly.
SATAN. Oh, don’t go away, dear Clio. You know you have no other engagement, and are merely bored. There now, don’t protest, my dear old friend. I warned you it would be horribly bourgeois. I ought also to have warned you . . . But, forgive me, dearest Muse, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying a little experiment upon you and your friends.
THE MUsE (furious and dignified). An experiment on me ? You . . . have ventured to play a practical joke on the Agesto-Come and me? I might have guessed as much, if I had not had too much belief in your good breeding, my Lord. Of course, it was evident that all this tosh had nothing to do with the Ballet of the Nations. But I never could have believed this
was Satan’s notion of a joke!
SATAN. It is not a joke. What you have seen and heard is the most serious thing in the Universe. It is Reality. Only you couldn’t recognize it.
THE Mom. I have had enough of your jests, my Lord. It
is enough you should have ventured to bore me with this pointless stuf‘f—all about nothing at all ; absolutely devoid of
meaning. SATAN (gravely). Yet the outcome of it was my Ballet of the
Nations. Allow me to tell you, dear old Clio, that the meaning discernible in Reality depends upon the eye and mind of him who witnesses and hears it. And when Reality happens to be a fragment so vast, wide-spreading and intricate, and of such long duration as the preliminaries of my Ballet, it needs, perchance, an eye accustomed to Eternities to take in the connections and put two and two together. To you, who are a kind of artist, it means nothing ; since you, dear Clio, take no interest in the slow accumulation of cause and effect which is called Fate. The world’s microscopic building by the heaping up of corpse on corpse of limestone-insects in the ocean depths, and their ages-long upheaval into Alpine ranges, is nothing to you. And similarly with men’s affairs. Why, even my Ballet, as I heard you recording it, was not the real thing, though you thought it was. That catastrophe was long indeed, horrible, hideous, wonderful, heroic, more than you guessed; and far more really dramatic than all the fireworks and antics you eloquently described. But it was also frivolous in part, and eminently boring. Reality is boring, nine-tenths of it, and therefore unrecorded. I own I wanted to try how much you might be able to discern; that wasn’t fair on an old friend, perhaps. Forgive me, therefore ; and to make amends for thus abusing your patience on false pretences, let me manipulate Reality so that you can take it in. Look! I will change the gearing of my magic apparatus; make the recorded acts and words, which were scattered, interrupted, or too long drawn out, gather up into scenes intelligible to a distinguished critic of the drama like you. I will precipitate the action, omit details, isolate essentials, typify the gestures, and parody the words. I will, to please you, transform Reality, which seems to have no point, into bare Caricature, which has. Here is a little selection from pre-war years. Look, Clio, and listen! SATAN begins taking discs out of a drawer and inserts one into the gramophom’. He continues pulling out and putting in discs all through the performance.
SATAN. Now, my dear Muse of History, we will begin with a little selection of scenes leading up to my Ballet. I am really ashamed that the emptiness of my poor green room should oblige you and your appreciative friends to remain standing. But you will see and hear only the better.
The cinema picture steadies itself into a newspaper office, with two men at a table. One, rather vulgar and unkempt, pours out a brandy and soda for the other, who is very well groomed and well mannered.
IsT Voice (vulgar and jocular). Of course, one doesn’t expect you official gentlemen ever to know what concerns them. What’s that old definition of a diplomat, eh ? Yamais rien vu, iamais rien su, jamais rien pu. . . . So I won’t waste my valuable time in making you guess what your principal ally is engaged in doing at this particular present moment.
2ND VoICE (well-bred, hesitating). My principal ally . . . you mean . . .?
IsT VoIcE. Yes, my good man, your principal ally—your dear, devoted ally.
2ND VoIcE. Well, and what is he doing ?
IsT VOIcE. Doing? Doing behind your back, or rather under your nose ! Why, he’s busy burying the hatchet with the other chaps. What do you say to that, eh I‘
2ND VoIcE. Do you mean those people of Ogreland? Good heavens, that can never happen! You must be misinformed, my dear Editor.
IsT VoIcE. I tell you it’s happening at this very moment. He’s going to open his money market 'to them. Now will you believe ? “ Peace all round, or the European happy family.” That’s what’s being arranged behind your back. Perhaps that will suit your policy, eh ? Only please remember, my good fellow, that if you suddenly discover that the Balance of Power has gone to pot, it won’t have been my fault!