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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Choice
By George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
From ‘Candida’

MARCHBANKS—Morell, there’s going to be a terrible scene. Aren’t you afraid?  1
  Morell—Not in the least.  2
  Marchbanks—I never envied you your courage before.  [He rises timidly and puts his hand appealingly on Morell’s forearm.]  Stand by me, won’t you?  3
  Morell  [casting him off gently, but resolutely]—Each for himself, Eugene. She must choose between us now.  [He goes to the other side of the room as Candida returns.  Eugene sits down again on the sofa like a guilty schoolboy on his best behavior.]  4
  Candida  [between them, addressing Eugene]—Are you sorry?  5
  Marchbanks  [earnestly]—Yes, heartbroken.  6
  Candida—Well, then, you are forgiven. Now go off to bed like a good little boy: I want to talk to James about you.  7
  Marchbanks  [rising in great consternation]—Oh, I can’t do that, Morell. I must be here. I’ll not go away. Tell her.  8
  Candida  [with quick suspicion]—Tell me what?  [His eyes avoid hers furtively.  She turns and mutely transfers the question to Morell.]  9
  Morell  [bracing himself for the catastrophe]—I have nothing to tell her, except  [here his voice deepens to a measured and mournful tenderness]  that she is my greatest treasure on earth—if she is really mine.  10
  Candida  [coldly, offended by his yielding to his orator’s instinct and treating her as if she were the audience at the Guild of St. Matthew]—I am sure Eugene can say no less, if that is all.  11
  Marchbanks  [discouraged]—Morell: she’s laughing at us.  12
  Morell  [with a quick touch of temper]—There is nothing to laugh at. Are you laughing at us, Candida?  13
  Candida  [with quiet anger]—Eugene is very quick-witted, James. I hope I am going to laugh; but I am not sure that I am not going to be very angry.  [She goes to the fireplace, and stands there leaning with her arm on the mantelpiece, and her foot on the fender, whilst Eugene steals to Morell and plucks him by the sleeve.]  14
  Marchbanks  [whispering]—Stop, Morell. Don’t let us say anything.  15
  Morell  [pushing Eugene away without deigning to look at him]—I hope you don’t mean that as a threat, Candida.  16
  Candida  [with emphatic warning]—Take care, James. Eugene: I asked you to go. Are you going?  17
  Morell  [putting his foot down]—He shall not go. I wish him to remain.  18
  Marchbanks—I’ll go. I’ll do whatever you want.  [He turns to the door.]  19
  Candida—Stop!  [He obeys.]  Didn’t you hear James say he wished you to stay? James is master here. Don’t you know that?  20
  Marchbanks  [flushing with a young poet’s rage against tyranny]—By what right is he master?  21
  Candida  [quietly]—Tell him, James.  22
  Morell  [taken aback]—My dear: I don’t know of any right that makes me master. I assert no such right.  23
  Candida  [with infinite reproach]—You don’t know! Oh, James, James!  [To Eugene, musingly.]  I wonder do you understand, Eugene! No: you’re too young. Well, I give you leave to stay—to stay and learn.  [She comes away from the hearth and places herself between them.]  Now, James: what’s the matter? Come: tell me.  24
  Marchbanks  [whispering tremulously across to him]—Don’t.  25
  Candida—Come. Out with it——!  26
  Morell  [slowly]—I meant to prepare your mind carefully, Candida, so as to prevent misunderstanding.  27
  Candida—Yes, dear: I am sure you did. But never mind: I shan’t misunderstand.  28
  Morell—Well—er—[He hesitates, unable to find the long explanation which he supposed to be available.]  29
  Candida—Well?  30
  Morell  [baldly]—Eugene declares that you are in love with him.  31
  Marchbanks  [frantically]—No, no, no, no, never. I did not, Mrs. Morell: it’s not true. I said I loved you, and that he didn’t. I said that I understood you, and that he couldn’t. And it was not after what passed there before the fire that I spoke: it was not, on my word. It was this morning.  32
  Candida  [enlightened]—This morning!  33
  Marchbanks—Yes.  [He looks at her, pleading for credence and then adds, simply.]  That was what was the matter with my collar.  34
  Candida  [after a pause, for she does not take in his meaning at once]—His collar!  [She turns to Morell, shocked.]  Oh, James: did you?  [She stops.]  35
  Morell  [ashamed]—You know, Candida, that I have a temper to struggle with. And he said  [shuddering]  that you despised me in your heart.  36
  Candida  [turning quickly on Eugene]—Did you say that?  37
  Marchbanks  [terrified]—No!  38
  Candida  [severely]—Then James has just told me a falsehood. Is that what you mean?  39
  Marchbanks—No, no: I—I—[blurting out the explanation desperately]—it was David’s wife. And it wasn’t at home; it was when she saw him dancing before all the people.  40
  Morell  [taking the cue with a debater’s adroitness]—Dancing before all the people, Candida; and thinking he was moving their hearts by his mission when they were only suffering from—Prossy’s complaint.  [She is about to protest: he raises his hand to silence her, exclaiming.]  Don’t try to look indignant, Candida.  41
  Candida  [interjecting]—Try!  42
  Morell  [continuing]—Eugene was right. As you told me a few hours after, he is always right. He said nothing that you did not say far better yourself. He is the poet, who sees everything; and I am the poor parson who understands nothing.  43
  Candida  [remorsefully]—Do you mind what is said by a foolish boy, because I said something like it again in jest?  44
  Morell—That foolish boy can speak with the inspiration of a child and the cunning of a serpent. He has claimed that you belong to him and not to me; and, rightly or wrongly, I have come to fear that it may be true. I will not go about tortured with doubts and suspicions. I will not live with you and keep a secret from you. I will not suffer the intolerable degradation of jealousy. We have agreed—he and I—that you shall choose between us now. I await your decision.  45
  Candida  [slowly recoiling a step, her heart hardened by his rhetoric in spite of the sincere feeling behind it]—Oh! I am to choose, am I? I suppose it is quite settled that I must belong to one or the other.  46
  Morell  [firmly]—Quite. You must choose definitely.  47
  Marchbanks  [anxiously]—Morell: you don’t understand. She belongs to herself.  48
  Candida  [turning on him]—I mean that and a good deal more, Master Eugene, as you will both find out presently. And pray, my lords and masters, what have you to offer for my choice? I am up for auction, it seems. What do you bid, James?  49
  Morell  [reproachfully]—Cand—[He breaks down: his eyes and throat fill with tears: the orator becomes the wounded animal.]  I can’t speak.  50
  Candida  [impulsively going to him]—Ah, dearest——  51
  Marchbanks  [in wild alarm]—Stop: it’s not fair. You mustn’t show her that you suffer, Morell. I am on the rack, too; but I am not crying.  52
  Morell  [rallying all his forces]—Yes; you are right. It is for pity that I am bidding.  [He disengages himself from Candida.]  53
  Candida  [retreating, chilled]—I beg your pardon, James; I did not mean to touch you. I am waiting to hear your bid.  54
  Morell  [with proud humility]—I have nothing to offer you but my strength for your defense, my honesty of purpose for your surety, my ability and industry for your livelihood, and my authority and position for your dignity. That is all it becomes a man to offer to a woman.  55
  Candida  [quite quietly]—And you, Eugene? What do you offer?  56
  Marchbanks—My weakness! my desolation! my heart’s need!  57
  Candida  [impressed]—That’s a good bid, Eugene. Now I know how to make my choice.
[She pauses and looks curiously from one to the other, as if weighing them.  Morell, whose lofty confidence has changed into heart-breaking dread at Eugene’s bid, loses all power of concealing his anxiety.  Eugene, strung to the highest tension, does not move a muscle.]
  Morell  [in a suffocated voice—the appeal bursting from the depths of his anguish]—Candida!  59
  Marchbanks  [aside, in a flash of contempt]—Coward!  60
  Candida  [significantly]—I give myself to the weaker of the two.
[Eugene divines her meaning at once: his face whitens like steel in a furnace that cannot melt it.]
  Morell  [bowing his head with the calm of collapse]—I accept your sentence, Candida.  62
  Candida—Do you understand, Eugene?  63
  Marchbanks—Oh, I feel I’m lost. He cannot bear the burden.  64
  Morell  [incredulously, raising his head with prosaic abruptness]—Do you mean me, Candida?  65
  Candida  [smiling a little]—Let us sit and talk comfortably over it like three friends.  [To Morell.]  Sit down, dear.  [Morell takes the chair from the fireside—the children’s chair.]  Bring me that chair, Eugene.  [She indicates the easy chair.  He fetches it silently, even with something like cold strength, and places it next Morell, a little behind him.  She sits down.  He goes to the sofa and sits there, still silent and inscrutable.  When they are all settled she begins, throwing a spell of quietness on them by her calm, sane, tender tone.]  You remember what you told me about yourself, Eugene: how nobody has cared for you since your old nurse died: how those clever, fashionable sisters and successful brothers of yours were your mother’s and father’s pets: how miserable you were at Eton: how your father is trying to starve you into returning to Oxford: how you have had to live without comfort or welcome or refuge, always lonely, and nearly always disliked and misunderstood, poor boy!  66
  Marchbanks  [faithful to the nobility of his lot]—I had my books. I had Nature. And at last I met you.  67
  Candida—Never mind that just at present. Now I want you to look at this other boy here—my boy—spoiled from his cradle. We go once a fortnight to see his parents. You should come with us, Eugene, and see the pictures of the hero of that household. James as a baby! the most wonderful of all babies. James holding his first school prize, won at the ripe age of eight! James as the captain of his eleven! James in his first frock coat! James under all sorts of glorious circumstances! You know how strong he is (I hope he didn’t hurt you)—how clever he is—how happy!  [With deepening gravity.]  Ask James’s mother and his three sisters what it cost to save James the trouble of doing anything but be strong and clever and happy. Ask me what it costs to be James’s mother and three sisters and wife and mother to his children all in one. Ask Prossy and Maria how troublesome the house is even when we have no visitors to help us to slice the onions. Ask the tradesmen who want to worry James and spoil his beautiful sermons who it is that puts them off. When there is money to give, he gives it: when there is money to refuse, I refuse it. I build a castle of comfort and indulgence and love for him, and stand sentinel always to keep little vulgar cares out. I make him master here, though he does not know it, and could not tell you a moment ago how it came to be so.  [With sweet irony.]  And when he thought I might go away with you, his only anxiety was what should become of me! And to tempt me to stay he offered me  [leaning forward to stroke his hair caressingly at each phrase]  his strength for my defense, his industry for my livelihood, his position for my dignity, his—[Relenting.]  Ah, I am mixing up your beautiful sentences and spoiling them, am I not, darling?  [She lays her cheek fondly against his.]  68
  Morell  [quite overcome, kneeling beside her chair and embracing her with boyish ingenuousness]—It’s all true, every word. What I am you have made me with the labor of your hands and the love of your heart! You are my wife, my mother, my sisters: you are the sum of all loving care to me.  69
  Candida  [in his arms, smiling, to Eugene]—Am I your mother and sisters to you, Eugene?  70
  Marchbanks  [rising, with a fierce gesture of disgust]—Ah, never. Out, then, into the night with me!  71
  Candida  [rising quickly and intercepting him]—You are not going like that, Eugene?  72
  Marchbanks  [with the ring of a man’s voice—no longer a boy’s—in the words]—I know the hour when it strikes. I am impatient to do what must be done.  73
  Morell  [rising from his knee, alarmed]—Candida: don’t let him do anything rash.  74
  Candida  [confident, smiling at Eugene]—Oh, there is no fear. He has learnt to live without happiness.  75
  Marchbanks—I no longer desire happiness: life is nobler than that. Parson James: I give you my happiness with both hands: I love you because you have filled the heart of the woman I loved. Good-bye.  [He goes towards the door.]  76
  Candida—One last word.  [He stops, but without turning to her.]  How old are you, Eugene?  77
  Marchbanks—As old as the world now. This morning I was eighteen.  78
  Candida  [going to him, and standing behind him with one hand caressingly on his shoulder]—Eighteen! Will you, for my sake, make a little poem out of the two sentences I am going to say to you? And will you promise to repeat it to yourself whenever you think of me?  79
  Marchbanks  [without moving]—Say the sentences.  80
  Candida—When I am thirty, she will be forty-five. When I am sixty, she will be seventy-five.  81
  Marchbanks  [turning to her]—In a hundred years, we shall be the same age. But I have a better secret than that in my heart. Let me go now. The night outside grows impatient.  82
  Candida—Good-bye.  [She takes his face in her hands; and as he divines her intention and bends his knee, she kisses his forehead.  Then he flies out into the night.  She turns to Morell, holding out her arms to him.]  Ah, James!  [They embrace.  But they do not know the secret in the poet’s heart.]  83

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