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- Getting Married - 36/36 -
SOAMES. We are members of one another. There is no need to refer to me. In the first place, I'm busy: in the second, youll find it all in the Church Catechism, which contains most of the new discoveries with which the age is bursting. Of course you should apologize to Billiter. He is your equal. He will go to the same heaven if he behaves himself and to the same hell if he doesnt.
MRS GEORGE [sitting down] And so will my husband the coal merchant.
HOTCHKISS. If I were your husband's superior here I should be his superior in heaven or hell: equality lies deeper than that. The coal merchant and I are in love with the same woman. That settles the question for me for ever. [He prowls across the kitchen to the garden door, deep in thought].
MRS GEORGE. You dont believe in women, do you, Anthony? He might as well say that he and George both like fried fish.
HOTCHKISS. I do not like fried fish. Dont be low, Polly.
SOAMES. Woman: do not presume to accuse me of unbelief. And do you, Hotchkiss, not despise this woman's soul because she speaks of fried fish. Some of the victims of the Miraculous Draught of Fishes were fried. And I eat fried fish every Friday and like it. You are as ingrained a snob as ever.
HOTCHKISS [impatiently] My dear Anthony: I find you merely ridiculous as a preacher, because you keep referring me to places and documents and alleged occurrences in which, as a matter of fact, I dont believe. I dont believe in anything but my own will and my own pride and honor. Your fishes and your catechisms and all the rest of it make a charming poem which you call your faith. It fits you to perfection; but it doesnt fit me. I happen, like Napoleon, to prefer Mohammedanism. [Mrs George, associating Mohammedanism with polygamy, looks at him with quick suspicion]. I believe the whole British Empire will adopt a reformed Mohammedanism before the end of the century. The character of Mahomet is congenial to me. I admire him, and share his views of life to a considerable extent. That beats you, you see, Soames. Religion is a great force--the only real motive force in the world; but what you fellows dont understand is that you must get at a man through his own religion and not through yours. Instead of facing that fact, you persist in trying to convert all men to your own little sect, so that you can use it against them afterwards. You are all missionaries and proselytizers trying to uproot the native religion from your neighbor's flowerbeds and plant your own in its place. You would rather let a child perish in ignorance than have it taught by a rival sectary. You can talk to me of the quintessential equality of coal merchants and British officers; and yet you cant see the quintessential equality of all the religions. Who are you, anyhow, that you should know better than Mahomet or Confucius or any of the other Johnnies who have been on this job since the world existed?
MRS GEORGE [admiring his eloquence] George will like you, Sonny. You should hear him talking about the Church.
SOAMES. Very well, then: go to your doom, both of you. There is only one religion for me: that which my soul knows to be true; but even irreligion has one tenet; and that is the sacredness of marriage. You two are on the verge of deadly sin. Do you deny that?
HOTCHKISS. You forget, Anthony: the marriage itself is the deadly sin according to you.
SOAMES. The question is not now what I believe, but what you believe. Take the vows with me; and give up that woman if you have the strength and the light. But if you are still in the grip of this world, at least respect its institutions. Do you believe in marriage or do you not?
HOTCHKISS. My soul is utterly free from any such superstition. I solemnly declare that between this woman, as you impolitely call her, and me, I see no barrier that my conscience bids me respect. I loathe the whole marriage morality of the middle classes with all my instincts. If I were an eighteenth century marquis I could feel no more free with regard to a Parisian citizen's wife than I do with regard to Polly. I despise all this domestic purity business as the lowest depth of narrow, selfish, sensual, wife- grabbing vulgarity.
MRS GEORGE [rising promptly] Oh, indeed. Then youre not coming home with me, young man. I'm sorry; for its refreshing to have met once in my life a man who wasnt frightened by my wedding ring; but I'm looking out for a friend and not for a French marquis; so youre not coming home with me.
HOTCHKISS [inexorably] Yes, I am.
MRS GEORGE. No.
HOTCHKISS. Yes. Think again. You know your set pretty well, I suppose, your petty tradesmen's set. You know all its scandals and hypocrisies, its jealousies and squabbles, its hundred of divorce cases that never come into court, as well as its tens that do.
MRS GEORGE. We're not angels. I know a few scandals; but most of us are too dull to be anything but good.
HOTCHKISS. Then you must have noticed that just an all murderers, judging by their edifying remarks on the scaffold, seem to be devout Christians, so all Christians, both male and female, are invariably people over-flowing with domestic sentimentality and professions of respect for the conventions they violate in secret.
MRS GEORGE. Well, you dont expect them to give themselves away, do you?
HOTCHKISS. They are people of sentiment, not of honor. Now, I'm not a man of sentiment, but a man of honor. I know well what will happen to me when once I cross the threshold of your husband's house and break bread with him. This marriage bond which I despise will bind me as it never seems to bind the people who believe in it, and whose chief amusement it is to go to the theatres where it is laughed at. Soames: youre a Communist, arnt you?
SOAMES. I am a Christian. That obliges me to be a Communist.
HOTCHKISS. And you believe that many of our landed estates were stolen from the Church by Henry the eighth?
SOAMES. I do not merely believe that: I know it as a lawyer.
HOTCHKISS. Would you steal a turnip from one of the landlords of those stolen lands?
SOAMES [fencing with the question] They have no right to their lands.
HOTCHKISS. Thats not what I ask you. Would you steal a turnip from one of the fields they have no right to?
SOAMES. I do not like turnips.
HOTCHKISS. As you are a lawyer, answer me.
SOAMES. I admit that I should probably not do so. I should perhaps be wrong not to steal the turnip: I cant defend my reluctance to do so; but I think I should not do so. I know I should not do so.
HOTCHKISS. Neither shall I be able to steal George's wife. I have stretched out my hand for that forbidden fruit before; and I know that my hand will always come back empty. To disbelieve in marriage is easy: to love a married woman is easy; but to betray a comrade, to be disloyal to a host, to break the covenant of bread and salt, is impossible. You may take me home with you, Polly: you have nothing to fear.
MRS GEORGE. And nothing to hope?
HOTCHKISS. Since you put it in that more than kind way, Polly, absolutely nothing.
MRS GEORGE. Hm! Like most men, you think you know everything a woman wants, dont you? But the thing one wants most has nothing to do with marriage at all. Perhaps Anthony here has a glimmering of it. Eh, Anthony?
SOAMES. Christian fellowship?
MRS GEORGE. You call it that, do you?
SOAMES. What do you call it?
COLLINS [appearing in the tower with the Beadle]. Now, Polly, the hall's full; and theyre waiting for you.
THE BEADLE. Make way there, gentlemen, please. Way for the worshipful the Mayoress. If you please, my lords and gentlemen. By your leave, ladies and gentlemen: way for the Mayoress.
Mrs George takes Hotchkiss's arm, and goes out, preceded by the Beadle.
Soames resumes his writing tranquilly.
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