'And so ad infinitum' (The Life of the Insects)/Act 3



Tramp. It ’s like this ’ere . . . What ’s wrong about
Them insec’s, if yer think it out,
Is, they’ve no feller-feelin’. Each
Jest for ’isself is what they preach.

Chrysalis. Listen to me, listen to me—
The whole world will soon be free!

Tramp. Thinks ’e ’s the world, ’e does . . . My ’at!
These insec’s all be’aves like that—
Ridic’lous creatures! Jest can’t see
’Ow small they looks to you and me . . .
They make me tired. . . . I’d give my clay
(Gospel, I would) to get away.
Man! These ’ere insec’s never dream
Of workin’ to some general scheme.

Chrysalis. The crowning hour approaches. Lo,
The universe begins to glow!

Tramp. (Jumping up)
Gorblimey, if I ’aven’t struck
The truth! Now, there ’s a bit o’ luck.
Insec’s won’t work together. Man
Will. ’E can form a general plan.
There ’s something great in ’im what fights
And perishes for the nation’s rights.

[Sits down.

Chrysalis. My wings are coming. See, they spread
Beyond the vast suns overhead!

Tramp. I’ve ’it it! That ’s what makes men great—
Givin’ their lives up for the State! . . .
Man’s not ’alf noble—put it straight!

’Ere what ’s that bitin’ me? Blimey, there ’s another of ’em—S’truth, I’ve sat on an Ant heap—’undreds and thousands—that ’s what they are playing at—’undreds and thousands!

[In the meanwhile the Curtain rises and displays the Ant Heap. In the Centre sits a Blind Ant who counts continuously: Ants with sacks, beans, shovels, &c., run across in time to his counting.

Blind Ant. One, two, three, four—one, two, three, four.

Tramp. What ’s that? What yer counting for, old boy?

Blind Ant. One, two, three, four—

Tramp. What ’s this ’ere? A, warehouse or a factory, isn’t it? Hi, what ’s it for?

Blind Ant. One, two, three, four—

Tramp. What ’s this factory for, I’m asking—why ’s this blind feller countin’? Ah, he ’s giving them the time. They all move in time as he counts, one, two, three, four. Like machines—Bah, it makes my head swim.

Blind Ant. One, two, three, four—

Enter Chief Engineer.

Chief Engineer. Quicker, quicker, one, two, three, four—

Blind Ant. (More quickly) One, two, three, four—one, two, three, four.

[They all move more quickly.

Tramp. What ’s that? I'm asking yer, sir, what ’s this ’ere factory?

Chief Engineer. What ’s your business?

Tramp. Business?

Chief Engineer. From which of the Ants?

Tramp. I’m a human man, that ’s what I am. Ants indeed!

Chief Engineer. This is an Ant realm. What do you want here?

Tramp. ’Avin’ a look.

Chief Engineer. Do you want work?

Tramp. Shouldn’t mind.

Second Engineer rushes in.

2nd Engineer. A discovery! A discovery!

Chief Engineer. What is it?

2nd Engineer. A new method of speeding up. Don’t count one, two, three, four—count blank, two, three, four—blind fellow, hullo!

Blind Ant. One, two, three, four—

2nd Engineer. Wrong: Blank, two, three, four.

Blind Ant. Blank, two, three, four. Blank, two, three, four—(All move more quickly).

Tramp. Not so fast—Makes me feel giddy.

2nd Engineer. Who are you?

Tramp. Stranger in these parts!

2nd Engineer. Where from?

Chief Engineer. From the humans—Where ’s the Human Ant Heap?

Tramp. What?

Chief Engineer. Where ’s the Human Ant Heap?

Tramp. Oh, over there, and over there. Everywhere.

2nd Engineer. Ha, ha! Everywhere! Fool!

Chief Engineer. Are there any humans?

Tramp. Yes. They’re called the lords of creation, that ’s what they’re called.

2nd Engineer. Ha, ha! Lords of creation!

Chief Engineer. We are the lords of creation.

2nd Engineer. Ha, ha! Masters of the world!

Chief Engineer. We’re the masters of the world.

2nd Engineer. The Ant Realm!

Chief Engineer. The largest Ant State!

2nd Engineer. A World Power!

Chief Engineer. The largest Democracy!

Tramp. What ’s that?

Chief Engineer. The world must obey us!

2nd Engineer. All have to work—all for Her.

Chief Engineer. As She orders.

Tramp. Who ’s Her?

Chief Engineer. The whole of the State. The Nation!

Tramp. Why, that ’s just the same as us! M.P.’s we ’ave and Boro’ Councillors, that ’s democracy—’Ave yer got Boro’ Councillors?

Chief Engineer. No, we have the whole.

Tramp. And who speaks for the whole?

2nd Engineer. Ha, ha! He knows nothing.

Chief Engineer. The one who orders. She who only issues commands.

2nd Engineer. She abides in the law—she is nowhere else.

Tramp. And who gives you your orders?

Chief Engineer. Reason.

2nd Engineer. Law.

Chief Engineer. The interests of the State.

2nd Engineer. That ’s it—that ’s it—

Tramp. I like that—all for the whole, and the whole for all.

Chief Engineer. For its majesty.

2nd Engineer. And against its enemies.

Tramp. What ’s that? Against whom?

Chief Engineer. Against all.

2nd Engineer. We are surrounded by enemies.

Chief Engineer. We defeated the Black Ants—

2nd Engineer. And starved out the Brown—

Chief Engineer. And subjugated the Greys, and only the Yellows are left; we must starve out the Yellows—

2nd Engineer. We must starve them all out.

Tramp. Why?

Chief Engineer. In the interests of the whole.

2nd Engineer. The interests of the whole are the highest.

Chief Engineer. Interests of race—

2nd Engineer. Industrial interests—

Chief Engineer. Colonial interests—

2nd Engineer. World interests—

Chief Engineer. Interests of the world.

2nd Engineer. Yes, yes, that ’s it.

Chief Engineer. All interests are the whole’s.

2nd Engineer. Nobody may have interests but the whole.

Chief Engineer. Interests preserve the whole.

2nd Engineer. And wars nourish it.

Tramp. Ah, you’ve warlike Ants.

2nd Engineer. He knows nothing.

Chief Engineer. Our Ants are the most peaceful Ants.

2nd Engineer. A nation of peace.

Chief Engineer. A labour State.

2nd Engineer. They only wish for world power—

Chief Engineer. Because they wish for world peace—

2nd Engineer. In the interest of their peaceable output—

Chief Engineer. And in the interests of progress.

2nd Engineer. In the interest of their interests, when we rule over the world.

Chief Engineer. We shall conquer time, we wish to reign over time.

Tramp. Over what?

Chief Engineer. Time. Time is greater than space.

2nd Engineer. Time has never been mastered.

Chief Engineer. The master of Time will be master of all!

Tramp. Slowly, for the love of Mike, slowly, let me think—

Chief Engineer. Speed is the master of Time.

2nd Engineer. The taming of time—

Chief Engineer. He who commands speed will rule over time.

2nd Engineer. Blank, two, three, four—blank, two, three, four—

Blind Ant. (More quickly) Blank, two, three, four—blank, two—

Chief Engineer. We must quicken the speed.

2nd Engineer. The speed of output.

Chief Engineer. The Peace of Life—

2nd Engineer. Every movement must be quickened.

Chief Engineer. Shortened—

2nd Engineer. Calculated—

Chief Engineer. To a second—

2nd Engineer. To the nth of a second—

Chief Engineer. So as to save time—

2nd Engineer. So as to increase the output—

Chief Engineer. Work had been too slow—labour must be carried out unsparingly—

2nd Engineer. Ruthlessly—

Tramp. And what ’s the hurry, anyway?

Chief Engineer. The interests of the whole.

2nd Engineer. It is a question of output—question of power.

Chief Engineer. Peaceful competition.

2nd Engineer. We are fighting the battle of peace.

Blind Ant. Blank, two, three, four—

[An Official approaches the Two Engineers and makes a report.

Tramp. Blank, two, three, four! Yer must go quicker. Why,
If I was countin’, ’stead o' you, I’d make them vermin fly.
Quicker, quicker, quicker! We men are jest like you,—
We're all for speed. I tell yer, we’re countin’ quicker, too;
And if we rush to ruin, we’ll ’ave ourselves to thank,—
So wake up, ole blind feller. On with yer countin’! Blank—

Blind Ant. Two, three, four—

Chief Engineer. Faster—faster—

[An Ant collapses with his load and moans.

2nd Engineer. Tut, tut! What ’s that? Get up.

Another Ant. (Next to him, bending over) Dead!

Chief Engineer. One, two—carry him away, quick.

2nd Engineer. He died honourably in the cause of speed.

Chief Engineer. How are you lifting him? Too slowly, you’re wasting time. Drop him. Now head and feet together. Blank, two, three—wrong, drop him again. Head and feet—blank, two, three, four—take him away—blank, two, blank, two, blank—

2nd Engineer. Two, three, four—quicker.

Tramp. Anyhow, he died quick enough—

Chief Engineer. Work, work, he who possesses more, must work more.

2nd Engineer. He requires more—

Chief Engineer. He has more to defend—

2nd Engineer. And more to gain.

Chief Engineer. We are a nation of peace—peace means work.

2nd Engineer. And work, strength.

Chief Engineer. And strength, war.

2nd Engineer. Yes, yes.

Enter Inventor, groping.

Inventor. Out of my way—step aside.

2nd Engineer. Our inventor—

Inventor. Take care, take care. Don’t touch my head. It is glass, it is brittle. It is greater than I am; keep out of the way, or it will burst, smash, bang. Step aside.

2nd Engineer. How goes it?

Inventor. It hurts me, it ’s going to burst. It may knock against the walls—bang! I can’t get my hands round it. I can scarcely carry it. Look out, do you hear? Whew, whew!

Chief Engineer. What ’s in it?

Inventor. A machine—a new machine in my head. Oh, oh, a huge machine. Out of the way, out of the way, I’m carrying a machine.

Chief Engineer. What sort of a machine?

Inventor. A war machine. A vast machine, a huge one. The swiftest, most effective crusher of lives. The forefront of progress, the acme of science. Whew, whew, do you hear it? Ten thousand, a hundred thousand dead! Whew, whew, it keeps on working. Two hundred thousand dead—whew, whew, whew, whew!

Chief Engineer. (To Tramp) A genius, eh?

Inventor. Oh, oh, what pain, my head ’s splitting—out of the way, out of the way, don’t knock against me—whew, whew, whew[Exit.

Chief Engineer. A vast intellect. The greatest of Scientists.

2nd Engineer. Nothing serves the State so much as Science.

Chief Engineer. Great is Science, and it will prevail—there will be war.

Tramp. Why war?

Chief Engineer. Because we shall have a new war machine.

2nd Engineer. Because we still need a bit of the world.

Chief Engineer. A bit of the world from the Birch tree to the Pine tree.

2nd Engineer. The road between the two blades of grass—

Chief Engineer. The only open road to the South—

2nd Engineer. A question of prestige.

Chief Engineer. And trade.

2nd Engineer. The rights of nationality.

Chief Engineer. We or the Yellows—

2nd Engineer. Never was war more honourable or urgent—

Chief Engineer. Than the war we must fight.

2nd Engineer. We are prepared.

Chief Engineer. We have only to find a casus belli.

Blind Ant. Blank, two, three, four—[A gong.

Chief Engineer. What ’s that?

Voice. (Outside) A messenger! A messenger!

Enter Messenger.

Messenger. I beg to announce myself. From the G.H.Q. Southern Army.

Chief Engineer. Good.

Messenger. In accordance with our instructions, we crossed the frontier of the Yellows—

Chief Engineer. What then?

Messenger. The Yellows captured me and took me to their Commander-in-Chief—

Chief Engineer. And—?

Messenger. Here is his letter—

Chief Engineer. Show it me. ‘The Government of the Yellow Ants calls upon the Ant Realm within three months to withdraw their Army lying between the Birch Tree and the Pine Tree between the two blades of grass.’

2nd Engineer. Listen to him.

Chief Engineer. ‘This territory comprises the historical, vital, industrial, general, and military interests of our state, so that it rightly belongs to us.’—

2nd Engineer. An insult, an insult, we shall not tolerate it!

Chief Engineer. ‘Meanwhile we are giving orders to our Army to mobilize.’ War, war, at last!

2nd Engineer. At last a war is forced upon us.

Chief Engineer. To arms!

Another Messenger runs on.

2nd Messenger. The Yellows are marching across our frontier—

Chief Engineer. To arms! To arms!

2nd Messenger. Mobilization—to arms!

Both Messengers. To arms! To arms!

[Alarm sirens—from all sides the Ants scramble into the Ant Heap.

Blind Ant. Blank, two, three, four—blank, two, three, four—

[Increasing din within.

Tramp. It does yer good to see ’em pass,
Prepared to shed their blood—
And jest for ’alf a yard o’ mud,
Between two blades o’ grass.

It does yer good to see ’em all
So ’andsome and so spry.
They’re not afraid to up and die—
They’ve ’eard the Nation’s call.

It makes yer think o’ them ole scenes,
With star-shells over ’ead,
The night we left a thousan’ dead—
And keptured two latrines.

Now, fellers, dig yerselves right in,
And stay there till yer bust.
Them Yellers wants your yard o’ dust,
And don’t you let ’em win!

Chrysalis. They call, they shout, they beat their drums.
The world wakes. The great moment comes!

[Beating of drumsAnts transform themselves into Soldiers. Chief Engineer becomes Commander-in-Chief.

Tramp. Now, that ’s what trainin’ does. You’re smart lads. Put it there!
Crumbs! if you’re half the ant I takes yer for, I swear
You’ll cop that bit o’ land afore the Yellers cop it—
But ’ere 's the brass ’ats comin’. I guess I’d better ’op it.

Chief Engineer. Soldiers! We find ourselves compelled to call you to the colours. A wicked enemy has treacherously attacked us, for the purpose of outwitting our peaceable preparations. At this great hour I have been appointed Dictator.

2nd Engineer. Three cheers for the Dictator—Shout boys, or——

Soldiers. Hip, hip, hooray!

Chief Engineer. (Saluting) Thank you! You have responded to the gravity of the moment. Soldiers, we are fighting for life and liberty.

2nd Engineer. And for the greatness of our State.

Chief Engineer. And for the greatness of our State. We shall wage war for the interest of civilization and our military honour. Soldiers, I am with you to the last drop of my blood.

2nd Engineer. Long live our beloved Commander-in-Chief!

Soldiers. Long live our Commander-in-Chief!

Chief Engineer. I know my soldiers. They will fight until the final victory. Long live our gallant men. Hurrah!

Soldiers. Hurrah! Hurrah!

Chief Engineer. (To 2nd Engineer) The First and Second Divisions will attack frontally. The Fourth will envelope the Pine Wood, and break into the Ant Heap of the Yellows. Women and children to be slaughtered—Third Division in reserve—no quarter!

[Second Engineer salutes.

May God assist us in this. Soldiers, ’shun! Right turn—quick march!


One, two! War forced upon us—one, two, one, two! In the name of Justice! No quarter! For your hearths and homes! One, two, one, two! We are only defending ourselves. War on the world. For a Greater Home Country. One, two—a ruthless enemy. Will of the Nation! To battle—strike hard. Historical claims. Brilliant spirit of the Army. One, two, one, two!

[Fresh Troops march past.

Good luck, soldiers, I shall be behind you—Well done the Fifth! The conquerors of the Pine Trees. A mighty epoch, to victory—conquer the world, magnificent daring—one, two! Well done, Seventh! Beat them, soldiers, the Yellow are cowards. Hack your way through, burn, destroy, heroes!

Enter Messenger.

Messenger. The Yellows have invaded the stretch of country between the roots of the Pine Tree and the Stone——

Chief Engineer. Entirely according to plan. Faster, soldiers, one, two, War forced on us for honour and glory, needs of the State, no conception of Justice; soldiers show your bravery, victory is ours, greatest moment in history. Quick march, quick march, quick march!

[Big bang in the distance.

The battle is beginning. Up with the reserves.

[Looks through the telescope.

Blind Ant. Blank, two, three, four—blank—

[Increasing din.

Chrysalis. Wild voices of the world, be dumb!
Your woes are at an end. I come!

Chief Engineer. Reserves stand to! (To 2nd Engineer) Issue a report.

2nd Engineer. (In a loud voice). The battle has begun at last, under favourable weather conditions. Our heroic men are fighting in magnificent spirits.

Chief Engineer. Right turn, quick march!—one, two, one, two—faster boys!

Enter Messenger.

Messenger. Our right wing is retreating. The Fifth Regiment is completely destroyed.

Chief Engineer. According to plan. Sixth Regiment replace them. Chief Engineer. According to plan. Sixth Regiment replace them.

Tramp. Ho, yuss! . . . There was other reports that began
‘The Regiment was butchered—accordin’ to plan!’
And after ’is battle, ’e’ll go round and scan
The corpses, all ’eaped up—‘accordin’ to plan’.

Enter Stretcher-bearers with wounded.

A Wounded Man. The fifth Regiment, our regiment—we’re all destroyed. Stop! Stop!

[Telegraph instrument clatters.

Signal Officer. (Reading dispatch) ‘Fifth regiment destroyed. We await orders.’

Chief Engineer. Sixth take its place. (To 2nd Engineer) Issue a report.

2nd Engineer. The battle is developing successfully. The Fifth Regiment especially distinguished itself, heroically repelling all attacks, whereupon it was relieved by the Sixth.

Chief Engineer. Bravo! I will decorate you with the steel Cross.

2nd Engineer. Thank you. I am only doing my duty.

Journalist. (Approaching with note-book) I am a journalist; shall we announce a victory?

Chief Engineer. Yes. Successful operations. Thanks to our plans prepared years ago. The admirable spirit of our forces—irresistible advance—the enemy demoralized.

Journalist. We—we—we——

Chief Engineer. Eh?

Journalist. We will print everything.

Chief Engineer. Good. We rely upon the cooperation of the Press. Don’t forget the admirable spirit.

Journalist. The Press is performing its d-duty!


Enter Philanthropist with collecting-box.

Philanthropist. Help the wounded! All for the wounded! Gifts for the wounded. Give to the wounded. Help for the cripples.

Chief Engineer. Second Division attack—it must break through whatever the sacrifice.

Philanthropist. For our heroes—help your brothers—help for the wounded.

Tramp. War for the wounded! Coppers for their wounds.

Philanthropist. Help for the wounded—give to the cripples.

Tramp. (He tears off a button and puts it in the collecting-box) All for the wounded! My last button for the war!

Another Wounded Man. Oh! Put me out of my misery, do!

Philanthropist. Aid the wounded.

[Telegraph instrument again.

Signal Officer. The right wing of the Yellows is retreating.

Chief Engineer. Pursue them. Finish them off. Don’t bother about prisoners.

2nd Engineer. The enemy retiring in confusion. Our regiments in defiance of death, dogging his footsteps with splendid daring.

Chief Engineer. Fourth Levy!

Signal Officer. The fourth regiment has invested the Pine Tree and has made a rear attack on the Ant Heap of the Yellows—the garrison is slaughtered.

Chief Engineer. Raze it to the ground—finish off the civilians.

Signal Officer. The enemy is overwhelmed—they have evacuated a foot of the furze bush.

Chief Engineer. Victory is ours. (Falls on knees and removes his helmet) Great god of the Ants, thou hast granted victory to thy servants. I appoint thee honorary Colonel. (Jumps up) Third Division forward, all reserves forward—no prisoners. Forward (Again on his knees) Righteous god of strength, thou knowest that our holy cause—(Jumps up) After them—after them—attack them—hunt them down—slaughter everybody. The empire of the world is settled. (Kneels) God of the Ants, in this significant hour—(Prays silently.)

Tramp. (Bending over him softly) Empire of the World! You miserable Ant you, you call this bit of clay and grass the world? This dirty little patch of soil? If I was to trample down all this ’ere Ant ’eap of yours and you with it, d’yer think these ’ere trees above yer would notice it? Not they!

Chief Engineer. Who are you?

Tramp. Only a voice. Though yesterday p’r’aps I was a soldier on another ant heap. What yer think of yerself, conqueror of the world? Feel big enough? Don’t that ’eap of corpses seem too small—for your glory, yer miserable image?

Chief Engineer. (Rising) I disregard you entirely—I proclaim myself Emperor!

Signal Officer. The Second Division is asking for reinforcements. Our troops seem exhausted.

Chief Engineer. They must hold out. Shoot down defaulters.

Signal Officer. The Third Division has been thrown into confusion.

An Ant. (Escapes across stage) We’re running away!

Chief Engineer. Mobilize the nation!

A Shout. No! No! Back, back!

Piercing cry. Save yourselves!

Chief Engineer. Send the unfit to the front—every one must go!

Soldier. They’re beating us, run.

Two Soldiers. They’ve surrounded us—escape!

A Soldier. To the West. Escape to the West!

Soldiers. They’ve surrounded us from the West—run to the East!

Chief Engineer. Back! To your places—to the front. Face to West.

Crowd. (From r.) Escape, they’re hunting us down. To the East.

Crowd. (From l.) To the West, out of the way, they’re here!

[The two streams begin to fight.

Chief Engineer. (Shouting at them) Back, cowards! You cattle—I am your Emperor.

A Soldier. Lie down. (Runs him through) Escape!

2nd Engineer. (Runs in wounded) They’ve taken the city. Put out the lights.

The Yellows. (Penetrating from both sides) Hurrah! Hurrah! The Ant Heap is ours!

[Lights go out: confusion.

2nd Engineer. Fight! Fight! Ah!

Yellow Leader. Into the passages after them—spare nobody, slaughter all the men.

Shouts of slaughtered men. Ah! Ah!

Blind Ant. Blank, two—blank, two—blank, two.

Yellow Leader. After them—murder—murder them all.

[The din becomes more remote.

Blind Ant. Blank, two—blank, two—blank, two—

Yellow Leader. Light!

[Lights are lit—the foreground is empty—corpses piled everywhere.

Excellent, Yellows. All are slaughtered.

Tramp. Chuck it, General!

Yellow Leader. The victory of the Yellows. The victory of justice and progress. Ours is the path between the two blades of grass. The world belongs to us Yellows. I proclaim myself Ruler of the Universe.

Chrysalis. I—I—I——

Yellow Leader (on his knees). Most righteous god of the Ants—thou knowest that we fight only for justice, our victory, our national honour, our commercial interests.

Tramp. (Rushes out, kicks him over, and grinds him into pieces with his boot) Bah! Yer insec’, yer insec’!