The Doctor's Dilemma, by George Bernard Shaw

Act iv

The studio. The easel is pushed back to the wall. Cardinal Death, holding his scythe and hour-glass like a sceptre and globe, sits on the throne. On the hat-stand hang the hats of Sir Patrick and Bloomfield Bonington. Walpole, just come in, is hanging up his beside them. There is a knock. He opens the door and finds Ridgeon there.

Walpole. Hallo, Ridgeon!

They come into the middle of the room together, taking off their gloves.

Ridgeon. Whats the matter! Have you been sent for, too?

Walpole. Weve all been sent for. Ive only just come: I havnt seen him yet. The charwoman says that old Paddy Cullen has been here with B. B. for the last half-hour. [Sir Patrick, with bad news in his face, enters from the inner room]. Well: whats up?

Sir Patrick. Go in and see. B. B. is in there with him.

Walpole goes. Ridgeon is about to follow him; but Sir Patrick stops him with a look.

Ridgeon. What has happened?

Sir Patrick. Do you remember Jane Marsh’s arm?

Ridgeon. Is that whats happened?

Sir Patrick. Thats whats happened. His lung has gone like Jane’s arm. I never saw such a case. He has got through three months galloping consumption in three days.

Ridgeon. B. B. got in on the negative phase.

Sir Patrick. Negative or positive, the lad’s done for. He wont last out the afternoon. He’ll go suddenly: Ive often seen it.

Ridgeon. So long as he goes before his wife finds him out, I dont care. I fully expected this.

Sir Patrick [drily] It’s a little hard on a lad to be killed because his wife has too high an opinion of him. Fortunately few of us are in any danger of that.

Sir Ralph comes from the inner room and hastens between them, humanely concerned, but professionally elate and communicative.

B. B. Ah, here you are, Ridgeon. Paddy’s told you, of course.

Ridgeon. Yes.

B. B. It’s an enormously interesting case. You know, Colly, by Jupiter, if I didnt know as a matter of scientific fact that I’d been stimulating the phagocytes, I should say I’d been stimulating the other things. What is the explanation of it, Sir Patrick? How do you account for it, Ridgeon? Have we over-stimulated the phagocytes? Have they not only eaten up the bacilli, but attacked and destroyed the red corpuscles as well? a possibility suggested by the patient’s pallor. Nay, have they finally begun to prey on the lungs themselves? Or on one another? I shall write a paper about this case.

Walpole comes back, very serious, even shocked. He comes between B. B. and Ridgeon.

Walpole. Whew! B. B.: youve done it this time.

B. B. What do you mean?

Walpole. Killed him. The worst case of neglected blood-poisoning I ever saw. It’s too late now to do anything. He’d die under the anaesthetic.

B. B. [offended] Killed! Really, Walpole, if your monomania were not well known, I should take such an expession very seriously.

Sir Patrick. Come come! When youve both killed as many people as I have in my time youll feel humble enough about it. Come and look at him, Colly.

Ridgeon and Sir Patrick go into the inner room.

Walpole. I apologize, B. B. But it’s blood-poisoning.

B. B. [recovering his irresistible good nature] My dear Walpole, everything is blood-poisoning. But upon my soul, I shall not use any of that stuff of Ridgeon’s again. What made me so sensitive about what you said just now is that, strictly between ourselves, Ridgeon cooked our young friend’s goose.

Jennifer, worried and distressed, but always gentle, comes between them from the inner room. She wears a nurse’s apron.

Mrs Dubedat. Sir Ralph: what am I to do? That man who insisted on seeing me, and sent in word that business was important to Louis, is a newspaper man. A paragraph appeared in the paper this morning saying that Louis is seriously ill; and this man wants to interview him about it. How can people be so brutally callous?

Walpole [moving vengefully towards the door] You just leave me to deal with him!

Mrs Dubedat [stopping him] But Louis insists on seeing him: he almost began to cry about it. And he says he cant bear his room any longer. He says he wants to [she struggles with a sob]— to die in his studio. Sir Patrick says let him have his way: it can do no harm. What shall we do?

B. B. [encouragingly] Why, follow Sir Patrick’s excellent advice, of course. As he says, it can do him no harm; and it will no doubt do him good — a great deal of good. He will be much the better for it.

Mrs Dubedat [a little cheered] Will you bring the man up here, Mr Walpole, and tell him that he may see Louis, but that he mustnt exhaust him by talking? [Walpole nods and goes out by the outer door]. Sir Ralph, dont be angry with me; but Louis will die if he stays here. I must take him to Cornwall. He will recover there.

B. B. [brightening wonderfully, as if Dubedat were already saved] Cornwall! The very place for him! Wonderful for the lungs. Stupid of me not to think of it before. You are his best physician after all, dear lady. An inspiration! Cornwall: of course, yes, yes, yes.

Mrs Dubedat [comforted and touched] You are so kind, Sir Ralph. But dont give me much or I shall cry; and Louis cant bear that.

B. B. [gently putting his protecting arm round her shoulders] Then let us come back to him and help to carry him in. Cornwall! of course, of course. The very thing! [They go together into the bedroom].

Walpole returns with The Newspaper Man, a cheerful, affable young man who is disabled for ordinary business pursuits by a congenital erroneousness which renders him incapable of describing accurately anything he sees, or understanding or reporting accurately anything he hears. As the only employment in which these defects do not matter is journalism (for a newspaper, not having to act on its description and reports, but only to sell them to idly curious people, has nothing but honor to lose by inaccuracy and unveracity), he has perforce become a journalist, and has to keep up an air of high spirits through a daily struggle with his own illiteracy and the precariousness of his employment. He has a note-book, and occasionally attempts to make a note; but as he cannot write shorthand, and does not write with ease in any hand, he generally gives it up as a bad job before he succeeds in finishing a sentence.

The Newspaper Man [looking round and making indecisive attempts at notes] This is the studio, I suppose.

Walpole. Yes.

The Newspaper Man [wittily] Where he has his models, eh?

Walpole [grimly irresponsive] No doubt.

The Newspaper Man Cubicle, you said it was?

Walpole. Yes, tubercle.

The Newspaper Man Which way do you spell it: is it c-u-b-i-c-a-l or c-l-e?

Walpole. Tubercle, man, not cubical. [Spelling it for him] T-u-b-e-r-c-l-e.

The Newspaper Man. Oh! tubercle. Some disease, I suppose. I thought he had consumption. Are you one of the family or the doctor?

Walpole. I’m neither one nor the other. I am Mister Cutler Walpole. Put that down. Then put down Sir Colenso Ridgeon.

The Newspaper Man. Pigeon?

Walpole. Ridgeon. [Contemptuously snatching his book] Here: youd better let me write the names down for you: youre sure to get them wrong. That comes of belonging to an illiterate profession, with no qualifications and no public register. [He writes the particulars].

The Newspaper Man. Oh, I say: you have got your knife into us, havnt you?

Walpole [vindictively] I wish I had: I’d make a better man of you. Now attend. [Shewing him the book] These are the names of the three doctors. This is the patient. This is the address. This is the name of the disease. [He shuts the book with a snap which makes the journalist blink, and returns it to him]. Mr Dubedat will be brought in here presently. He wants to see you because he doesnt know how bad he is. We’ll allow you to wait a few minutes to humor him; but if you talk to him, out you go. He may die at any moment.

The Newspaper Man. [interested] Is he as bad as that? I say: I am in luck to-day. Would you mind letting me photograph you? [He produces a camera]. Could you have a lancet or something in your hand?

Walpole. Put it up. If you want my photograph you can get it in Baker Street in any of the series of celebrities.

The Newspaper Man. But theyll want to be paid. If you wouldnt mind [fingering the camera]—?

Walpole. I would. Put it up, I tell you. Sit down there and be quiet.

The Newspaper Man quickly sits down on the piano stool as Dubedat, in an invalid’s chair, is wheeled in by Mrs Dubedat and Sir Ralph. They place the chair between the dais and the sofa, where the easel stood before. Louis is not changed as a robust man would be; and he is not scared. His eyes look larger; and he is so weak physically that he can hardly move, lying on his cushions, with complete languor; but his mind is active; it is making the most of his condition, finding voluptuousness in languor and drama in death. They are all impressed, in spite of themselves, except Ridgeon, who is implacable. B.B. is entirely sympathetic and forgiving. Ridgeon follows the chair with a tray of milk and stimulants. Sir Patrick, who accompanies him, takes the tea-table from the corner and places it behind the chair for the tray. B. B. takes the easel chair and places it for Jennifer at Dubedat’s side, next the dais, from which the lay figure ogles the dying artist. B. B. then returns to Dubedat’s left. Jennifer sits. Walpole sits down on the edge of the dais. Ridgeon stands near him.

Louis [blissfully] Thats happiness! To be in a studio! Happiness!

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, dear. Sir Patrick says you may stay here as long as you like.

Louis. Jennifer.

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, my darling.

Louis. Is the newspaper man here?

The Newspaper Man [glibly] Yes, Mr Dubedat: I’m here, at your service. I represent the press. I thought you might like to let us have a few words about — about — er — well, a few words on your illness, and your plans for the season.

Louis. My plans for the season are very simple. I’m going to die.

Mrs Dubedat [tortured] Louis — dearest —

Louis. My darling: I’m very weak and tired. Dont put on me the horrible strain of pretending that I dont know. Ive been lying there listening to the doctors — laughing to myself. They know. Dearest: dont cry. It makes you ugly; and I cant bear that. [She dries her eyes and recovers herself with a proud effort]. I want you to promise me something.

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, yes: you know I will. [Imploringly] Only, my love, my love, dont talk: it will waste your strength.

Louis. No: it will only use it up. Ridgeon: give me something to keep me going for a few minutes — one of your confounded anti-toxins, if you dont mind. I have some things to say before I go.

Ridgeon [looking at Sir Patrick] I suppose it can do no harm? [He pours out some spirit, and is about to add soda water when Sir Patrick corrects him].

Sir Patrick. In milk. Dont set him coughing.

Louis [after drinking] Jennifer.

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, dear.

Louis. If theres one thing I hate more than another, it’s a widow. Promise me that youll never be a widow.

Mrs Dubedat. My dear, what do you mean?

Louis. I want you to look beautiful. I want people to see in your eyes that you were married to me. The people in Italy used to point at Dante and say “There goes the man who has been in hell.” I want them to point at you and say “There goes a woman who has been in heaven.” It has been heaven, darling, hasnt it — sometimes?

Mrs Dubedat. Oh yes, yes. Always, always.

Louis. If you wear black and cry, people will say “Look at that miserable woman: her husband made her miserable.”

Mrs Dubedat. No, never. You are the light and the blessing of my life. I never lived until I knew you.

Louis [his eyes glistening] Then you must always wear beautiful dresses and splendid magic jewels. Think of all the wonderful pictures I shall never paint.

[She wins a terrible victory over a sob] Well, you must be transfigured with all the beauty of those pictures. Men must get such dreams from seeing you as they never could get from any daubing with paints and brushes. Painters must paint you as they never painted any mortal woman before. There must be a great tradition of beauty, a great atmosphere of wonder and romance. That is what men must always think of when they think of me. That is the sort of immortality I want. You can make that for me, Jennifer. There are lots of things you dont understand that every woman in the street understands; but you can understand that and do it as nobody else can. Promise me that immortality. Promise me you will not make a little hell of crape and crying and undertaker’s horrors and withering flowers and all that vulgar rubbish.

Mrs Dubedat. I promise. But all that is far off, dear. You are to come to Cornwall with me and get well. Sir Ralph says so.

Louis. Poor old B. B.

B. B. [affected to tears, turns away and whispers to Sir Patrick] Poor fellow! Brain going.

Louis. Sir Patrick’s there, isn’t he?

Sir Patrick. Yes, yes. I’m here.

Louis. Sit down, wont you? It’s a shame to keep you standing about.

Sir Patrick. Yes, Yes. Thank you. All right.

Louis. Jennifer.

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, dear.

Louis [with a strange look of delight] Do you remember the burning bush?

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, Yes. Oh, my dear, how it strains my heart to remember it now!

Louis. Does it? It fills me with joy. Tell them about it.

Mrs Dubedat. It was nothing — only that once in my old Cornish home we lit the first fire of the winter; and when we looked through the window we saw the flames dancing in a bush in the garden.

Louis. Such a color! Garnet color. Waving like silk. Liquid lovely flame flowing up through the bay leaves, and not burning them. Well, I shall be a flame like that. I’m sorry to disappoint the poor little worms; but the last of me shall be the flame in the burning bush. Whenever you see the flame, Jennifer, that will be me. Promise me that I shall be burnt.

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, if I might be with you, Louis!

Louis. No: you must always be in the garden when the bush flames. You are my hold on the world: you are my immortality. Promise.

Mrs Dubedat. I’m listening. I shall not forget. You know that I promise.

Louis. Well, thats about all; except that you are to hang my pictures at the one-man show. I can trust your eye. You wont let anyone else touch them.

Mrs Dubedat. You can trust me.

Louis. Then theres nothing more to worry about, is there? Give me some more of that milk. I’m fearfully tired; but if I stop talking I shant begin again. [Sir Ralph gives him a drink. He takes it and looks up quaintly]. I say, B. B., do you think anything would stop you talking?

B. B. [almost unmanned] He confuses me with you, Paddy. Poor fellow! Poor fellow!

Louis [musing] I used to be awfully afraid of death; but now it’s come I have no fear; and I’m perfectly happy. Jennifer.

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, dear?

Louis. I’ll tell you a secret. I used to think that our marriage was all an affectation, and that I’d break loose and run away some day. But now that I’m going to be broken loose whether I like it or not, I’m perfectly fond of you, and perfectly satisfied because I’m going to live as part of you and not as my troublesome self.

Mrs Dubedat [heartbroken] Stay with me, Louis. Oh, dont leave me, dearest.

Louis. Not that I’m selfish. With all my faults I dont think Ive ever been really selfish. No artist can: Art is too large for that. You will marry again, Jennifer.

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, how can you, Louis?

Louis [insisting childishly] Yes, because people who have found marriage happy always marry again. Ah, I shant be jealous. [Slyly.] But dont talk to the other fellow too much about me: he wont like it. [Almost chuckling] I shall be your lover all the time; but it will be a secret from him, poor devil!

Sir Patrick. Come! youve talked enough. Try to rest awhile.

Louis [wearily] Yes: I’m fearfully tired; but I shall have a long rest presently. I have something to say to you fellows. Youre all there, arnt you? I’m too weak to see anything but Jennifer’s bosom. That promises rest.

Ridgeon. We are all here.

Louis [startled] That voice sounded devilish. Take care, Ridgeon: my ears hear things that other people’s cant. Ive been thinking — thinking. I’m cleverer than you imagine.

Sir Patrick [whispering to Ridgeon] Youve got on his nerves, Colly. Slip out quietly.

Ridgeon [apart to Sir Patrick] Would you deprive the dying actor of his audience?

Louis [his face lighting up faintly with mischievous glee] I heard that, Ridgeon. That was good. Jennifer dear: be kind to Ridgeon always; because he was the last man who amused me.

Ridgeon [relentless] Was I?

Louis. But it’s not true. It’s you who are still on the stage. I’m half way home already.

Mrs Dubedat [to Ridgeon] What did you say?

Louis [answering for him] Nothing, dear. Only one of those little secrets that men keep among themselves. Well, all you chaps have thought pretty hard things of me, and said them.

B. B. [quite overcome] No, no, Dubedat. Not at all.

Louis. Yes, you have. I know what you all think of me. Dont imagine I’m sore about it. I forgive you.

Walpole [involuntarily] Well, damn me! [Ashamed] I beg your pardon.

Louis. That was old Walpole, I know. Don’t grieve, Walpole. I’m perfectly happy. I’m not in pain. I don’t want to live. Ive escaped from myself. I’m in heaven, immortal in the heart of my beautiful Jennifer. I’m not afraid, and not ashamed. [Reflectively, puzzling it out for himself weakly] I know that in an accidental sort of way, struggling through the unreal part of life, I havnt always been able to live up to my ideal. But in my own real world I have never done anything wrong, never denied my faith, never been untrue to myself. Ive been threatened and blackmailed and insulted and starved. But Ive played the game. Ive fought the good fight. And now it’s all over, theres an indescribable peace. [He feebly folds his hands and utters his creed] I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. Amen. Amen. [He closes his eyes and lies still].

Mrs Dubedat [breathless] Louis: are you —

Walpole rises and comes quickly to see whether he is dead.

Louis. Not yet, dear. Very nearly, but not yet. I should like to rest my head on your bosom; only it would tire you.

Mrs Dubedat. No, no, no, darling: how could you tire me? [She lifts him so that he lies on her bosom].

Louis. Thats good. Thats real.

Mrs Dubedat. Dont spare me, dear. Indeed, indeed you will not tire me. Lean on me with all your weight.

Louis [with a sudden half return of his normal strength and comfort] Jinny Gwinny: I think I shall recover after all. [Sir Patrick looks significantly at Ridgeon, mutely warning him that this is the end].

Mrs Dubedat [hopefully] Yes, yes: you shall.

Louis. Because I suddenly want to sleep. Just an ordinary sleep.

Mrs Dubedat [rocking him] Yes, dear. Sleep. [He seems to go to sleep. Walpole makes another movement. She protests]. Sh — sh: please dont disturb him. [His lips move]. What did you say, dear? [In great distress] I cant listen without moving him. [His lips move again; Walpole bends down and listens].

Walpole. He wants to know is the newspaper man here.

The Newspaper Man [excited; for he has been enjoying himself enormously] Yes, Mr Dubedat. Here I am.

Walpole raises his hand warningly to silence him. Sir Ralph sits down quietly on the sofa and frankly buries his face in his handkerchief.

Mrs Dubedat [with great relief] Oh thats right, dear: dont spare me: lean with all your weight on me. Now you are really resting.

Sir Patrick quickly comes forward and feels Louis’s pulse; then takes him by the shoulders.

Sir Patrick. Let me put him back on the pillow, maam. He will be better so.

Mrs Dubedat [piteously] Oh no, please, please, doctor. He is not tiring me; and he will be so hurt when he wakes if he finds I have put him away.

Sir Patrick. He will never wake again. [He takes the body from her and replaces it in the chair. Ridgeon, unmoved, lets down the back and makes a bier of it].

Mrs Dubedat [who has unexpectedly sprung to her feet, and stands dry-eyed and stately] Was that death?

Walpole. Yes.

Mrs Dubedat [with complete dignity] Will you wait for me a moment? I will come back. [She goes out].

Walpole. Ought we to follow her? Is she in her right senses?

Sir Patrick [with quiet conviction]. Yes. Shes all right. Leave her alone. She’ll come back.

Ridgeon [callously] Let us get this thing out of the way before she comes.

B. B. [rising, shocked] My dear Colly! The poor lad! He died splendidly.

Sir Patrick. Aye! that is how the wicked die.

For there are no bands in their death;

But their strength is firm:

They are not in trouble as other men.

No matter: its not for us to judge. Hes in another world now.

Walpole. Borrowing his first five-pound note there, probably.

Ridgeon. I said the other day that the most tragic thing in the world is a sick doctor. I was wrong. The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not also a man of honor.

Ridgeon and Walpole wheel the chair into the recess.

The Newspaper Man [to Sir Ralph] I thought it shewed a very nice feeling, his being so particular about his wife going into proper mourning for him and making her promise never to marry again.

B. B. [impressively] Mrs Dubedat is not in a position to carry the interview any further. Neither are we.

Sir Patrick. Good afternoon to you.

The Newspaper Man. Mrs. Dubedat said she was coming back.

B. B. After you have gone.

The Newspaper Man. Do you think she would give me a few words on How It Feels to be a Widow? Rather a good title for an article, isnt it?

B. B. Young man: if you wait until Mrs Dubedat comes back, you will be able to write an article on How It Feels to be Turned Out of the House.

The Newspaper Man [unconvinced] You think she’d rather not —

B. B. [cutting him short] Good day to you. [Giving him a visiting-card] Mind you get my name correctly. Good day.

The Newspaper Man. Good day. Thank you. [Vaguely trying to read the card] Mr —

B. B. No, not Mister. This is your hat, I think [giving it to him]. Gloves? No, of course: no gloves. Good day to you. [He edges him out at last; shuts the door on him; and returns to Sir Patrick as Ridgeon and Walpole come back from the recess, Walpole crossing the room to the hat-stand, and Ridgeon coming between Sir Ralph and Sir Patrick]. Poor fellow! Poor young fellow! How well he died! I feel a better man, really.

Sir Patrick. When youre as old as I am, youll know that it matters very little how a man dies. What matters is, how he lives. Every fool that runs his nose against a bullet is a hero nowadays, because he dies for his country. Why dont he live for it to some purpose?

B. B. No, please, Paddy: dont be hard on the poor lad. Not now, not now. After all, was he so bad? He had only two failings: money and women. Well, let us be honest. Tell the truth, Paddy. Dont be hypocritical, Ridgeon. Throw off the mask, Walpole. Are these two matters so well arranged at present that a disregard of the usual arrangements indicates real depravity?

Walpole. I dont mind his disregarding the usual arrangements. Confound the usual arrangements! To a man of science theyre beneath contempt both as to money and women. What I mind is his disregarding everything except his own pocket and his own fancy. He didn’t disregard the usual arrangements when they paid him. Did he give us his pictures for nothing? Do you suppose he’d have hesitated to blackmail me if I’d compromised myself with his wife? Not he.

Sir Patrick. Dont waste your time wrangling over him. A blackguard’s a blackguard; an honest man’s an honest man; and neither of them will ever be at a loss for a religion or a morality to prove that their ways are the right ways. It’s the same with nations, the same with professions, the same all the world over and always will be.

B. B. Ah, well, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Still, de mortuis nil nisi bonum. He died extremely well, remarkably well. He has set us an example: let us endeavor to follow it rather than harp on the weaknesses that have perished with him. I think it is Shakespear who says that the good that most men do lives after them: the evil lies interred with their bones. Yes: interred with their bones. Believe me, Paddy, we are all mortal. It is the common lot, Ridgeon. Say what you will, Walpole, Nature’s debt must be paid. If tis not to-day, twill be to-morrow.

To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow

After life’s fitful fever they sleep well

And like this insubstantial bourne from which

No traveller returns

Leave not a wrack behind.

Walpole is about to speak, but B. B., suddenly and vehemently proceeding, extinguishes him.

Out, out, brief candle:

For nothing canst thou to damnation add

The readiness is all.

Walpole [gently; for B. B.‘s feeling, absurdly expressed as it is, is too sincere and humane to be ridiculed] Yes, B. B. Death makes people go on like that. I dont know why it should; but it does. By the way, what are we going to do? Ought we to clear out; or had we better wait and see whether Mrs Dubedat will come back?

Sir Patrick. I think we’d better go. We can tell the charwoman what to do.

They take their hats and go to the door.

Mrs Dubedat [coming from the inner door wonderfully and beautifully dressed, and radiant, carrying a great piece of purple silk, handsomely embroidered, over her arm] I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting.

Sir Patrick } [amazed, all together in a confused murmur] { Dont mention it, madam.
B.B. } { Not at all, not at all.
Ridgeon } { By no means.
Walpole } { It doesnt matter in the least.

Mrs Dubedat [coming to them] I felt that I must shake hands with his friends once before we part to-day. We have shared together a great privilege and a great happiness. I dont think we can ever think of ourselves ordinary people again. We have had a wonderful experience; and that gives us a common faith, a common ideal, that nobody else can quite have. Life will always be beautiful to us: death will always be beautiful to us. May we shake hands on that?

Sir Patrick [shaking hands] Remember: all letters had better be left to your solicitor. Let him open everything and settle everything. Thats the law, you know.

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, thank you: I didnt know. [Sir Patrick goes].

Walpole. Good-bye. I blame myself: I should have insisted on operating. [He goes].

B. B. I will send the proper people: they will know it to do: you shall have no trouble. Good-bye, my dear lady. [He goes].

Ridgeon. Good-bye. [He offers his hand].

Mrs Dubedat [drawing back with gentle majesty] I said his friends, Sir Colenso. [He bows and goes].

She unfolds the great piece of silk, and goes into the recess to cover her dead.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00