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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

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LORD GORING. I am so sorry you didn't.

MABEL CHILTERN. It is too late now, I suppose

LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I am not so sure.

MABEL CHILTERN. Will you ride to-morrow morning?

LORD GORING. Yes, at ten.

MABEL CHILTERN. Don't forget

LORD GORING. Of course I shan't. By the way, Lady Chiltern, there
is no list of your guests in THE MORNING POST of to-day. It has
apparently been crowded out by the County Council, or the Lambeth
Conference, or something equally boring. Could you let me have a
list? I have a particular reason for asking you.

LADY CHILTERN. I am sure Mr. Trafford will be able to give you one.

LORD GORING. Thanks, so much.

MABEL CHILTERN. Tommy is the most useful person in London.

LORD GORING [Turning to her.] And who is the most ornamental?

MABEL CHILTERN [Triumphantly.] I am.

LORD GORING. How clever of you to guess it! [Takes up his hat and
cane.] Good-bye, Lady Chiltern! You will remember what I said to
you, won't you?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes; but I don't know why you said it to me.

LORD GORING. I hardly know myself. Good-bye, Miss Mabel!

MABEL CHILTERN [With a little moue of disappointment.] I wish you
were not going. I have had four wonderful adventures this morning;
four and a half, in fact. You might stop and listen to some of them.

LORD GORING. How very selfish of you to have four and a half! There
won't be any left for me.

MABEL CHILTERN. I don't want you to have any. They would not be
good for you.

LORD GORING. That is the first unkind thing you have ever said to
me. How charmingly you said it! Ten to-morrow.

MABEL CHILTERN. Sharp.

LORD GORING. Quite sharp. But don't bring Mr. Trafford.

MABEL CHILTERN. [With a little toss of the head.] Of course I
shan't bring Tommy Trafford. Tommy Trafford is in great disgrace.

LORD GORING. I am delighted to hear it. [Bows and goes out.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Gertrude, I wish you would speak to Tommy Trafford.

LADY CHILTERN. What has poor Mr. Trafford done this time? Robert
says he is the best secretary he has ever had.

MABEL CHILTERN. Well, Tommy has proposed to me again. Tommy really
does nothing but propose to me. He proposed to me last night in the
music-room, when I was quite unprotected, as there was an elaborate
trio going on. I didn't dare to make the smallest repartee, I need
hardly tell you. If I had, it would have stopped the music at once.
Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to
be perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be
absolutely deaf. Then he proposed to me in broad daylight this
morning, in front of that dreadful statue of Achilles. Really, the
things that go on in front of that work of art are quite appalling.
The police should interfere. At luncheon I saw by the glare in his
eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check
him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately I
don't know what bimetallism means. And I don't believe anybody else
does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for ten minutes. He
looked quite shocked. And then Tommy is so annoying in the way he
proposes. If he proposed at the top of his voice, I should not mind
so much. That might produce some effect on the public. But he does
it in a horrid confidential way. When Tommy wants to be romantic he
talks to one just like a doctor. I am very fond of Tommy, but his
methods of proposing are quite out of date. I wish, Gertrude, you
would speak to him, and tell him that once a week is quite often
enough to propose to any one, and that it should always be done in a
manner that attracts some attention.

LADY CHILTERN. Dear Mabel, don't talk like that. Besides, Robert
thinks very highly of Mr. Trafford. He believes he has a brilliant
future before him.

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I wouldn't marry a man with a future before him
for anything under the sun.

LADY CHILTERN. Mabel!

MABEL CHILTERN. I know, dear. You married a man with a future,
didn't you? But then Robert was a genius, and you have a noble,
self-sacrificing character. You can stand geniuses. I have no,
character at all, and Robert is the only genius I could ever bear.
As a rule, I think they are quite impossible. Geniuses talk so much,
don't they? Such a bad habit! And they are always thinking about
themselves, when I want them to be thinking about me. I must go
round now and rehearse at Lady Basildon's. You remember, we are
having tableaux, don't you? The Triumph of something, I don't know
what! I hope it will be triumph of me. Only triumph I am really
interested in at present. [Kisses LADY CHILTERN and goes out; then
comes running back.] Oh, Gertrude, do you know who is coming to see
you? That dreadful Mrs. Cheveley, in a most lovely gown. Did you
ask her?

LADY CHILTERN. [Rising.] Mrs. Cheveley! Coming to see me?
Impossible!

MABEL CHILTERN. I assure you she is coming upstairs, as large as
life and not nearly so natural.

LADY CHILTERN. You need not wait, Mabel. Remember, Lady Basildon is
expecting you.

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I must shake hands with Lady Markby. She is
delightful. I love being scolded by her.

[Enter MASON.]

MASON. Lady Markby. Mrs. Cheveley.

[Enter LADY MARKBY and MRS. CHEVELEY.]

LADY CHILTERN. [Advancing to meet them.] Dear Lady Markby, how nice
of you to come and see me! [Shakes hands with her, and bows somewhat
distantly to MRS. CHEVELEY.] Won't you sit down, Mrs. Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. Isn't that Miss Chiltern? I should like so
much to know her.

LADY CHILTERN. Mabel, Mrs. Cheveley wishes to know you.

[MABEL CHILTERN gives a little nod.]

MRS. CHEVELEY [Sitting down.] I thought your frock so charming last
night, Miss Chiltern. So simple and . . . suitable.

MABEL CHILTERN. Really? I must tell my dressmaker. It will be such
a surprise to her. Good-bye, Lady Markby!

LADY MARKBY. Going already?

MABEL CHILTERN. I am so sorry but I am obliged to. I am just off to
rehearsal. I have got to stand on my head in some tableaux.

LADY MARKBY. On your head, child? Oh! I hope not. I believe it is
most unhealthy. [Takes a seat on the sofa next LADY CHILTERN.]

MABEL CHILTERN. But it is for an excellent charity: in aid of the
Undeserving, the only people I am really interested in. I am the
secretary, and Tommy Trafford is treasurer.

MRS. CHEVELEY. And what is Lord Goring?

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! Lord Goring is president.

MRS. CHEVELEY. The post should suit him admirably, unless he has
deteriorated since I knew him first.

LADY MARKBY. [Reflecting.] You are remarkably modern, Mabel. A
little too modern, perhaps. Nothing is so dangerous as being too
modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly. I have
known many instances of it

MABEL CHILTERN. What a dreadful prospect!

LADY MARKBY. Ah! my dear, you need not be nervous. You will always
be as pretty as possible. That is the best fashion there is, and the
only fashion that England succeeds in setting.

MABEL CHILTERN. [With a curtsey.] Thank you so much, Lady Markby,
for England . . . and myself. [Goes out.]

LADY MARKBY. [Turning to LADY CHILTERN.] Dear Gertrude, we just
called to know if Mrs. Cheveley's diamond brooch has been found.

LADY CHILTERN. Here?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I missed it when I got back to Claridge's, and
I thought I might possibly have dropped it here.

LADY CHILTERN. I have heard nothing about it. But I will send for
the butler and ask. [Touches the bell.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, pray don't trouble, Lady Chiltern. I dare say I
lost it at the Opera, before we came on here.

LADY MARKBY. Ah yes, I suppose it must have been at the Opera. The
fact is, we all scramble and jostle so much nowadays that I wonder we
have anything at all left on us at the end of an evening. I know
myself that, when I am coming back from the Drawing Room, I always
feel as if I hadn't a shred on me, except a small shred of decent
reputation, just enough to prevent the lower classes making painful
observations through the windows of the carriage. The fact is that
our Society is terribly over-populated. Really, some one should
arrange a proper scheme of assisted emigration. It would do a great
deal of good.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I quite agree with you, Lady Markby. It is nearly
six years since I have been in London for the Season, and I must say
Society has become dreadfully mixed. One sees the oddest people
everywhere.

LADY MARKBY. That is quite true, dear. But one needn't know them.
I'm sure I don't know half the people who come to my house. Indeed,
from all I hear, I shouldn't like to.

[Enter MASON.]

LADY CHILTERN. What sort of a brooch was it that you lost, Mrs.
Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. A diamond snake-brooch with a ruby, a rather large
ruby.

LADY MARKBY. I thought you said there was a sapphire on the head,
dear?

MRS. CHEVELEY [Smiling.] No, lady Markby - a ruby.

LADY MARKBY. [Nodding her head.] And very becoming, I am quite
sure.

LADY CHILTERN. Has a ruby and diamond brooch been found in any of
the rooms this morning, Mason?

MASON. No, my lady.

MRS. CHEVELEY. It really is of no consequence, Lady Chiltern. I am
so sorry to have put you to any inconvenience.

LADY CHILTERN. [Coldly.] Oh, it has been no inconvenience. That
will do, Mason. You can bring tea.

[Exit MASON.]

LADY MARKBY. Well, I must say it is most annoying to lose anything.
I remember once at Bath, years ago, losing in the Pump Room an
exceedingly handsome cameo bracelet that Sir John had given me. I
don't think he has ever given me anything since, I am sorry to say.
He has sadly degenerated. Really, this horrid House of Commons quite
ruins our husbands for us. I think the Lower House by far the
greatest blow to a happy married life that there has been since that
terrible thing called the Higher Education of Women was invented.

LADY CHILTERN. Ah! it is heresy to say that in this house, Lady
Markby. Robert is a great champion of the Higher Education of Women,
and so, I am afraid, am I.

MRS. CHEVELEY. The higher education of men is what I should like to
see. Men need it so sadly.

LADY MARKBY. They do, dear. But I am afraid such a scheme would be
quite unpractical. I don't think man has much capacity for
development. He has got as far as he can, and that is not far, is
it? With regard to women, well, dear Gertrude, you belong to the
younger generation, and I am sure it is all right if you approve of
it. In my time, of course, we were taught not to understand
anything. That was the old system, and wonderfully interesting it
was. I assure you that the amount of things I and my poor dear
sister were taught not to understand was quite extraordinary. But
modern women understand everything, I am told.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Except their husbands. That is the one thing the
modern woman never understands.

LADY MARKBY. And a very good thing too, dear, I dare say. It might
break up many a happy home if they did. Not yours, I need hardly
say, Gertrude. You have married a pattern husband. I wish I could
say as much for myself. But since Sir John has taken to attending
the debates regularly, which he never used to do in the good old
days, his language has become quite impossible. He always seems to
think that he is addressing the House, and consequently whenever he
discusses the state of the agricultural labourer, or the Welsh
Church, or something quite improper of that kind, I am obliged to
send all the servants out of the room. It is not pleasant to see
one's own butler, who has been with one for twenty-three years,
actually blushing at the side-board, and the footmen making
contortions in corners like persons in circuses. I assure you my
life will be quite ruined unless they send John at once to the Upper
House. He won't take any interest in politics then, will he? The
House of Lords is so sensible. An assembly of gentlemen. But in his
present state, Sir John is really a great trial. Why, this morning
before breakfast was half over, he stood up on the hearthrug, put his
hands in his pockets, and appealed to the country at the top of his
voice. I left the table as soon as I had my second cup of tea, I
need hardly say. But his violent language could be heard all over
the house! I trust, Gertrude, that Sir Robert is not like that

LADY CHILTERN. But I am very much interested in politics, Lady
Markby. I love to hear Robert talk about them.

LADY MARKBY. Well, I hope he is not as devoted to Blue Books as Sir
John is. I don't think they can be quite improving reading for any
one.

MRS. CHEVELEY [Languidly.] I have never read a Blue Book. I prefer
books . . . in yellow covers.

LADY MARKBY. [Genially unconscious.] Yellow is a gayer colour, is
it not? I used to wear yellow a good deal in my early days, and
would do so now if Sir John was not so painfully personal in his
observations, and a man on the question of dress is always
ridiculous, is he not?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! I think men are the only authorities on
dress.

LADY MARKBY. Really? One wouldn't say so from the sort of hats they
wear? would one?

[The butler enters, followed by the footman. Tea is set on a small
table close to LADY CHILTERN.]

LADY CHILTERN. May I give you some tea, Mrs. Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. [The butler hands MRS. CHEVELEY a cup of tea
on a salver.]

LADY CHILTERN. Some tea, Lady Markby?

LADY MARKBY. No thanks, dear. [The servants go out.] The fact is,
I have promised to go round for ten minutes to see poor Lady
Brancaster, who is in very great trouble. Her daughter, quite a
well-brought-up girl, too, has actually become engaged to be married
to a curate in Shropshire. It is very sad, very sad indeed. I can't
understand this modern mania for curates. In my time we girls saw
them, of course, running about the place like rabbits. But we never
took any notice of them, I need hardly say. But I am told that
nowadays country society is quite honeycombed with them. I think it
most irreligious. And then the eldest son has quarrelled with his
father, and it is said that when they meet at the club Lord
Brancaster always hides himself behind the money article in THE
TIMES. However, I believe that is quite a common occurrence nowadays
and that they have to take in extra copies of THE TIMES at all the
clubs in St. James's Street; there are so many sons who won't have
anything to do with their fathers, and so many fathers who won't
speak to their sons. I think myself, it is very much to be
regretted.

MRS. CHEVELEY. So do I. Fathers have so much to learn from their
sons nowadays.

LADY MARKBY. Really, dear? What?

MRS. CHEVELEY. The art of living. The only really Fine Art we have
produced in modern times.

LADY MARKBY. [Shaking her head.] Ah! I am afraid Lord Brancaster
knew a good deal about that. More than his poor wife ever did.
[Turning to LADY CHILTERN.] You know Lady Brancaster, don't you,
dear?

LADY CHILTERN. Just slightly. She was staying at Langton last
autumn, when we were there.

LADY MARKBY. Well, like all stout women, she looks the very picture
of happiness, as no doubt you noticed. But there are many tragedies
in her family, besides this affair of the curate. Her own sister,
Mrs. Jekyll, had a most unhappy life; through no fault of her own, I
am sorry to say. She ultimately was so broken-hearted that she went
into a convent, or on to the operatic stage, I forget which. No; I
think it was decorative art-needlework she took up. I know she had
lost all sense of pleasure in life. [Rising.] And now, Gertrude, if
you will allow me, I shall leave Mrs. Cheveley in your charge and
call back for her in a quarter of an hour. Or perhaps, dear Mrs.
Cheveley, you wouldn't mind waiting in the carriage while I am with
Lady Brancaster. As I intend it to be a visit of condolence, I
shan't stay long.

MRS. CHEVELEY [Rising.] I don't mind waiting in the carriage at all,
provided there is somebody to look at one.

LADY MARKBY. Well, I hear the curate is always prowling about the
house.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I am afraid I am not fond of girl friends.

LADY CHILTERN [Rising.] Oh, I hope Mrs. Cheveley will stay here a
little. I should like to have a few minutes' conversation with her.

MRS. CHEVELEY. How very kind of you, Lady Chiltern! Believe me,
nothing would give me greater pleasure.

LADY MARKBY. Ah! no doubt you both have many pleasant reminiscences
of your schooldays to talk over together. Good-bye, dear Gertrude!
Shall I see you at Lady Bonar's to-night? She has discovered a
wonderful new genius. He does . . . nothing at all, I believe. That
is a great comfort, is it not?

LADY CHILTERN. Robert and I are dining at home by ourselves to-
night, and I don't think I shall go anywhere afterwards. Robert, of
course, will have to be in the House. But there is nothing
interesting on.

LADY MARKBY. Dining at home by yourselves? Is that quite prudent?
Ah, I forgot, your husband is an exception. Mine is the general
rule, and nothing ages a woman so rapidly as having married the
general rule. [Exit LADY MARKBY.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Wonderful woman, Lady Markby, isn't she? Talks more
and says less than anybody I ever met. She is made to be a public
speaker. Much more so than her husband, though he is a typical
Englishman, always dull and usually violent.

LADY CHILTERN. [Makes no answer, but remains standing. There is a
pause. Then the eyes of the two women meet. LADY CHILTERN looks
stern and pale. MRS. CHEVELEY seem rather amused.] Mrs. Cheveley, I
think it is right to tell you quite frankly that, had I known who you
really were, I should not have invited you to my house last night.

MRS. CHEVELEY [With an impertinent smile.] Really?

LADY CHILTERN. I could not have done so.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I see that after all these years you have not changed
a bit, Gertrude.

LADY CHILTERN. I never change.

MRS. CHEVELEY [Elevating her eyebrows.] Then life has taught you
nothing?

LADY CHILTERN. It has taught me that a person who has once been
guilty of a dishonest and dishonourable action may be guilty of it a
second time, and should be shunned.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Would you apply that rule to every one?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes, to every one, without exception.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Then I am sorry for you, Gertrude, very sorry for
you.

LADY CHILTERN. You see now, I was sure, that for many reasons any
further acquaintance between us during your stay in London is quite
impossible?

MRS. CHEVELEY [Leaning back in her chair.] Do you know, Gertrude, I
don't mind your talking morality a bit. Morality is simply the
attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike. You
dislike me. I am quite aware of that. And I have always detested
you. And yet I have come here to do you a service.

LADY CHILTERN. [Contemptuously.] Like the service you wished to
render my husband last night, I suppose. Thank heaven, I saved him
from that.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Starting to her feet.] It was you who made him
write that insolent letter to me? It was you who made him break his
promise?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Then you must make him keep it. I give you till to-
morrow morning - no more. If by that time your husband does not
solemnly bind himself to help me in this great scheme in which I am
interested -

LADY CHILTERN. This fraudulent speculation -

MRS. CHEVELEY. Call it what you choose. I hold your husband in the
hollow of my hand, and if you are wise you will make him do what I
tell him.

LADY CHILTERN. [Rising and going towards her.] You are impertinent.
What has my husband to do with you? With a woman like you?

MRS. CHEVELEY [With a bitter laugh.] In this world like meets with
like. It is because your husband is himself fraudulent and dishonest
that we pair so well together. Between you and him there are chasms.
He and I are closer than friends. We are enemies linked together.
The same sin binds us.

LADY CHILTERN. How dare you class my husband with yourself? How
dare you threaten him or me? Leave my house. You are unfit to enter
it.

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN enters from behind. He hears his wife's last
words, and sees to whom they are addressed. He grows deadly pale.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Your house! A house bought with the price of
dishonour. A house, everything in which has been paid for by fraud.
[Turns round and sees SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.] Ask him what the origin
of his fortune is! Get him to tell you how he sold to a stockbroker
a Cabinet secret. Learn from him to what you owe your position.

LADY CHILTERN. It is not true! Robert! It is not true!

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Pointing at him with outstretched finger.] Look at
him! Can he deny it? Does he dare to?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Go! Go at once. You have done your worst now.

MRS. CHEVELEY. My worst? I have not yet finished with you, with
either of you. I give you both till to-morrow at noon. If by then
you don't do what I bid you to do, the whole world shall know the
origin of Robert Chiltern.

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN strikes the bell. Enter MASON.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Show Mrs. Cheveley out.

[MRS. CHEVELEY starts; then bows with somewhat exaggerated politeness
to LADY CHILTERN, who makes no sign of response. As she passes by
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, who is standing close to the door, she pauses
for a moment and looks him straight in the face. She then goes out,
followed by the servant, who closes the door after him. The husband
and wife are left alone. LADY CHILTERN stands like some one in a
dreadful dream. Then she turns round and looks at her husband. She
looks at him with strange eyes, as though she were seeing him for the
first time.]

LADY CHILTERN. You sold a Cabinet secret for money! You began your
life with fraud! You built up your career on dishonour! Oh, tell me
it is not true! Lie to me! Lie to me! Tell me it is not true!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What this woman said is quite true. But,
Gertrude, listen to me. You don't realise how I was tempted. Let me
tell you the whole thing. [Goes towards her.]

LADY CHILTERN. Don't come near me. Don't touch me. I feel as if
you had soiled me for ever. Oh! what a mask you have been wearing
all these years! A horrible painted mask! You sold yourself for
money. Oh! a common thief were better. You put yourself up to sale
to the highest bidder! You were bought in the market. You lied to
the whole world. And yet you will not lie to me.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rushing towards her.] Gertrude! Gertrude!

LADY CHILTERN. [Thrusting him back with outstretched hands.] No,
don't speak! Say nothing! Your voice wakes terrible memories -
memories of things that made me love you - memories of words that
made me love you - memories that now are horrible to me. And how I
worshipped you! You were to me something apart from common life, a
thing pure, noble, honest, without stain. The world seemed to me
finer because you were in it, and goodness more real because you
lived. And now - oh, when I think that I made of a man like you my
ideal! the ideal of my life!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. There was your mistake. There was your error.
The error all women commit. Why can't you women love us, faults and
all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We have all feet
of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love
them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections,
love them all the more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the
perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are
wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should
come to cure us - else what use is love at all? All sins, except a
sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless
lives, true Love should pardon. A man's love is like that. It is
wider, larger, more human than a woman's. Women think that they are
making ideals of men. What they are making of us are false idols
merely. You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to
come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid
that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now. And so, last
night you ruined my life for me - yes, ruined it! What this woman
asked of me was nothing compared to what she offered to me. She
offered security, peace, stability. The sin of my youth, that I had
thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with
its hands at my throat. I could have killed it for ever, sent it
back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness
against me. You prevented me. No one but you, you know it. And now
what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame,
the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely
dishonoured death, it may be, some day? Let women make no more
ideals of men! let them not put them on alters and bow before them,
or they may ruin other lives as completely as you - you whom I have
so wildly loved - have ruined mine!

[He passes from the room. LADY CHILTERN rushes towards him, but the
door is closed when she reaches it. Pale with anguish, bewildered,
helpless, she sways like a plant in the water. Her hands,
outstretched, stem to tremble in the air like blossoms in the mind.
Then she flings herself down beside a sofa and buries her face. Her
sobs are like the sobs of a child.]

ACT DROP

THIRD ACT

SCENE

The Library in Lord Goring's house. An Adam room. On the right is
the door leading into the hall. On the left, the door of the
smoking-room. A pair of folding doors at the back open into the
drawing-room. The fire is lit. Phipps, the butler, is arranging
some newspapers on the writing-table. The distinction of Phipps is
his impassivity. He has been termed by enthusiasts the Ideal Butler.
The Sphinx is not so incommunicable. He is a mask with a manner. Of
his intellectual or emotional life, history knows nothing. He
represents the dominance of form.

[Enter LORD GORING in evening dress with a buttonhole. He is wearing
a silk hat and Inverness cape. White-gloved, he carries a Louis
Seize cane. His are all the delicate fopperies of Fashion. One sees
that he stands in immediate relation to modern life, makes it indeed,
and so masters it. He is the first well-dressed philosopher in the
history of thought.]

LORD GORING. Got my second buttonhole for me, Phipps?

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. [Takes his hat, cane, and cape, and presents
new buttonhole on salver.]

LORD GORING. Rather distinguished thing, Phipps. I am the only
person of the smallest importance in London at present who wears a
buttonhole.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. I have observed that,

LORD GORING. [Taking out old buttonhole.] You see, Phipps, Fashion
is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other
people wear.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. Just as vulgarity is simply the conduct of other
people.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. [Putting in a new buttonhole.] And falsehoods the
truths of other people.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible
society is oneself.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,
Phipps.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. [Looking at himself in the glass.] Don't think I quite
like this buttonhole, Phipps. Makes me look a little too old. Makes
me almost in the prime of life, eh, Phipps?

PHIPPS. I don't observe any alteration in your lordship's
appearance.

LORD GORING. You don't, Phipps?

PHIPPS. No, my lord.

LORD GORING. I am not quite sure. For the future a more trivial
buttonhole, Phipps, on Thursday evenings.

PHIPPS. I will speak to the florist, my lord. She has had a loss in
her family lately, which perhaps accounts for the lack of triviality
your lordship complains of in the buttonhole.

LORD GORING. Extraordinary thing about the lower classes in England
- they are always losing their relations.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord! They are extremely fortunate in that respect.

LORD GORING. [Turns round and looks at him. PHIPPS remains
impassive.] Hum! Any letters, Phipps?

PHIPPS. Three, my lord. [Hands letters on a salver.]

LORD GORING. [Takes letters.] Want my cab round in twenty minutes.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. [Goes towards door.]

LORD GORING. [Holds up letter in pink envelope.] Ahem! Phipps,
when did this letter arrive?

PHIPPS. It was brought by hand just after your lordship went to the
club.

LORD GORING. That will do. [Exit PHIPPS.] Lady Chiltern's
handwriting on Lady Chiltern's pink notepaper. That is rather
curious. I thought Robert was to write. Wonder what Lady Chiltern
has got to say to me? [Sits at bureau and opens letter, and reads
it.] 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you. Gertrude.'
[Puts down the letter with a puzzled look. Then takes it up, and
reads it again slowly.] 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to
you.' So she has found out everything! Poor woman! Poor woman! [
Pulls out watch and looks at it.] But what an hour to call! Ten
o'clock! I shall have to give up going to the Berkshires. However,
it is always nice to be expected, and not to arrive. I am not
expected at the Bachelors', so I shall certainly go there. Well, I
will make her stand by her husband. That is the only thing for her
to do. That is the only thing for any woman to do. It is the growth
of the moral sense in women that makes marriage such a hopeless, one-
sided institution. Ten o'clock. She should be here soon. I must
tell Phipps I am not in to any one else. [Goes towards bell]

[Enter PHIPPS.]

PHIPPS. Lord Caversham.

LORD GORING. Oh, why will parents always appear at the wrong time?
Some extraordinary mistake in nature, I suppose. [Enter LORD
CAVERSHAM.] Delighted to see you, my dear father. [Goes to meet
him.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Take my cloak off.

LORD GORING. Is it worth while, father?

LORD CAVERSHAM. Of course it is worth while, sir. Which is the most
comfortable chair?

LORD GORING. This one, father. It is the chair I use myself, when I
have visitors.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Thank ye. No draught, I hope, in this room?

LORD GORING. No, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Sitting down.] Glad to hear it. Can't stand
draughts. No draughts at home.

LORD GORING. Good many breezes, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Eh? Eh? Don't understand what you mean. Want to
have a serious conversation with you, sir.

LORD GORING. My dear father! At this hour?

LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, it is only ten o'clock. What is your
objection to the hour? I think the hour is an admirable hour!

LORD GORING. Well, the fact is, father, this is not my day for
talking seriously. I am very sorry, but it is not my day.

LORD CAVERSHAM. What do you mean, sir?

LORD GORING. During the Season, father, I only talk seriously on the
first Tuesday in every month, from four to seven.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, make it Tuesday, sir, make it Tuesday.

LORD GORING. But it is after seven, father, and my doctor says I
must not have any serious conversation after seven. It makes me talk
in my sleep.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Talk in your sleep, sir? What does that matter?
You are not married.

LORD GORING. No, father, I am not married.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Hum! That is what I have come to talk to you about,
sir. You have got to get married, and at once. Why, when I was your
age, sir, I had been an inconsolable widower for three months, and
was already paying my addresses to your admirable mother. Damme,
sir, it is your duty to get married. You can't be always living for
pleasure. Every man of position is married nowadays. Bachelors are
not fashionable any more. They are a damaged lot. Too much is known
about them. You must get a wife, sir. Look where your friend Robert
Chiltern has got to by probity, hard work, and a sensible marriage
with a good woman. Why don't you imitate him, sir? Why don't you
take him for your model?

LORD GORING. I think I shall, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I wish you would, sir. Then I should be happy. At
present I make your mother's life miserable on your account. You are
heartless, sir, quite heartless

LORD GORING. I hope not, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. And it is high time for you to get married. You are
thirty-four years of age, sir.

LORD GORING. Yes, father, but I only admit to thirty-two - thirty-
one and a half when I have a really good buttonhole. This buttonhole
is not . . . trivial enough.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I tell you you are thirty-four, sir. And there is a
draught in your room, besides, which makes your conduct worse. Why
did you tell me there was no draught, sir? I feel a draught, sir, I
feel it distinctly.

LORD GORING. So do I, father. It is a dreadful draught. I will
come and see you to-morrow, father. We can talk over anything you
like. Let me help you on with your cloak, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. No, sir; I have called this evening for a definite
purpose, and I am going to see it through at all costs to my health
or yours. Put down my cloak, sir.

LORD GORING. Certainly, father. But let us go into another room.
[Rings bell.] There is a dreadful draught here. [Enter PHIPPS.]
Phipps, is there a good fire in the smoking-room?

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. Come in there, father. Your sneezes are quite
heartrending.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, I suppose I have a right to sneeze when I
choose?

LORD GORING. [Apologetically.] Quite so, father. I was merely
expressing sympathy.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Oh, damn sympathy. There is a great deal too much
of that sort of thing going on nowadays.

LORD GORING. I quite agree with you, father. If there was less
sympathy in the world there would be less trouble in the world.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Going towards the smoking-room.] That is a
paradox, sir. I hate paradoxes.

LORD GORING. So do I, father. Everybody one meets is a paradox
nowadays. It is a great bore. It makes society so obvious.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Turning round, and looking at his son beneath his
bushy eyebrows.] Do you always really understand what you say, sir?

LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Yes, father, if I listen
attentively.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Indignantly.] If you listen attentively! . . .
Conceited young puppy!

[Goes off grumbling into the smoking-room. PHIPPS enters.]

LORD GORING. Phipps, there is a lady coming to see me this evening
on particular business. Show her into the drawing-room when she
arrives. You understand?

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. It is a matter of the gravest importance, Phipps.

PHIPPS. I understand, my lord.

LORD GORING. No one else is to be admitted, under any circumstances.

PHIPPS. I understand, my lord. [Bell rings.]

LORD GORING. Ah! that is probably the lady. I shall see her myself.

[Just as he is going towards the door LORD CAVERSHAM enters from the
smoking-room.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir? am I to wait attendance on you?

LORD GORING. [Considerably perplexed.] In a moment, father. Do
excuse me. [LORD CAVERSHAM goes back.] Well, remember my
instructions, Phipps - into that room.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

[LORD GORING goes into the smoking-room. HAROLD, the footman shows
MRS. CHEVELEY in. Lamia-like, she is in green and silver. She has
a cloak of black satin, lined with dead rose-leaf silk.]

HAROLD. What name, madam?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [To PHIPPS, who advances towards her.] Is Lord
Goring not here? I was told he was at home?

PHIPPS. His lordship is engaged at present with Lord Caversham,
madam.

[Turns a cold, glassy eye on HAROLD, who at once retires.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. [To herself.] How very filial!

PHIPPS. His lordship told me to ask you, madam, to be kind enough to
wait in the drawing-room for him. His lordship will come to you
there.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a look of surprise.] Lord Goring expects me?

PHIPPS. Yes, madam.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Are you quite sure?

PHIPPS. His lordship told me that if a lady called I was to ask her
to wait in the drawing-room. [Goes to the door of the drawing-room
and opens it.] His lordship's directions on the subject were very
precise.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [To herself] How thoughtful of him! To expect the
unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. [Goes towards the
drawing-room and looks in.] Ugh! How dreary a bachelor's drawing-
room always looks. I shall have to alter all this. [PHIPPS brings
the lamp from the writing-table.] No, I don't care for that lamp.
It is far too glaring. Light some candles.

PHIPPS. [Replaces lamp.] Certainly, madam.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I hope the candles have very becoming shades.

PHIPPS. We have had no complaints about them, madam, as yet.

[Passes into the drawing-room and begins to light the candles.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. [To herself.] I wonder what woman he is waiting for
to-night. It will be delightful to catch him. Men always look so
silly when they are caught. And they are always being caught.
[Looks about room and approaches the writing-table.] What a very
interesting room! What a very interesting picture! Wonder what his
correspondence is like. [Takes up letters.] Oh, what a very
uninteresting correspondence! Bills and cards, debts and dowagers!
Who on earth writes to him on pink paper? How silly to write on pink
paper! It looks like the beginning of a middle-class romance.
Romance should never begin with sentiment. It should begin with
science and end with a settlement. [Puts letter down, then takes it
up again.] I know that handwriting. That is Gertrude Chiltern's. I
remember it perfectly. The ten commandments in every stroke of the
pen, and the moral law all over the page. Wonder what Gertrude is
writing to him about? Something horrid about me, I suppose. How I
detest that woman! [Reads it.] 'I trust you. I want you. I am
coming to you. Gertrude.' 'I trust you. I want you. I am coming
to you.'

[A look of triumph comes over her face. She is just about to steal
the letter, when PHIPPS comes in.]

PHIPPS. The candles in the drawing-room are lit, madam, as you
directed.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. [Rises hastily and slips the letter under
a large silver-cased blotting-book that is lying on the table.]

PHIPPS. I trust the shades will be to your liking, madam. They are
the most becoming we have. They are the same as his lordship uses
himself when he is dressing for dinner.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a smile.] Then I am sure they will be
perfectly right.

PHIPPS. [Gravely.] Thank you, madam.

[MRS. CHEVELEY goes into the drawing-room. PHIPPS closes the door
and retires. The door is then slowly opened, and MRS. CHEVELEY comes
out and creeps stealthily towards the writing-table. Suddenly voices
are heard from the smoking-room. MRS. CHEVELEY grows pale, and
stops. The voices grow louder, and she goes back into the drawing-
room, biting her lip.]

[Enter LORD GORING and LORD CAVERSHAM.]

LORD GORING. [Expostulating.] My dear father, if I am to get
married, surely you will allow me to choose the time, place, and
person? Particularly the person.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Testily.] That is a matter for me, sir. You would
probably make a very poor choice. It is I who should be consulted,
not you. There is property at stake. It is not a matter for
affection. Affection comes later on in married life.

LORD GORING. Yes. In married life affection comes when people
thoroughly dislike each other, father, doesn't it? [Puts on LORD
CAVERSHAM'S cloak for him.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Certainly, sir. I mean certainly not, air. You are
talking very foolishly to-night. What I say is that marriage is a
matter for common sense.

LORD GORING. But women who have common sense are so curiously plain,
father, aren't they? Of course I only speak from hearsay.

LORD CAVERSHAM. No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at
all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex.

LORD GORING. Quite so. And we men are so self-sacrificing that we
never use it, do we, father?

LORD CAVERSHAM. I use it, sir. I use nothing else.

LORD GORING. So my mother tells me.

LORD CAVERSHAM. It is the secret of your mother's happiness. You
are very heartless, sir, very heartless.

LORD GORING. I hope not, father.

[Goes out for a moment. Then returns, looking rather put out, with
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My dear Arthur, what a piece of good luck
meeting you on the doorstep! Your servant had just told me you were
not at home. How extraordinary!

LORD GORING. The fact is, I am horribly busy to-night, Robert, and I
gave orders I was not at home to any one. Even my father had a
comparatively cold reception. He complained of a draught the whole
time.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! you must be at home to me, Arthur. You are
my best friend. Perhaps by to-morrow you will be my only friend. My
wife has discovered everything.

LORD GORING. Ah! I guessed as much!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking at him.] Really! How?

LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Oh, merely by something in
the expression of your face as you came in. Who told her?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley herself. And the woman I love
knows that I began my career with an act of low dishonesty, that I
built up my life upon sands of shame - that I sold, like a common
huckster, the secret that had been intrusted to me as a man of
honour. I thank heaven poor Lord Radley died without knowing that I
betrayed him. I would to God I had died before I had been so
horribly tempted, or had fallen so low. [Burying his face in his
hands.]

LORD GORING. [After a pause.] You have heard nothing from Vienna
yet, in answer to your wire?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking up.] Yes; I got a telegram from the
first secretary at eight o'clock to-night.

LORD GORING. Well?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Nothing is absolutely known against her. On
the contrary, she occupies a rather high position in society. It is
a sort of open secret that Baron Arnheim left her the greater portion
of his immense fortune. Beyond that I can learn nothing.

LORD GORING. She doesn't turn out to be a spy, then?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! spies are of no use nowadays. Their
profession is over. The newspapers do their work instead.

LORD GORING. And thunderingly well they do it.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, I am parched with thirst. May I ring
for something? Some hock and seltzer?

LORD GORING. Certainly. Let me. [Rings the bell.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thanks! I don't know what to do, Arthur, I
don't know what to do, and you are my only friend. But what a friend
you are - the one friend I can trust. I can trust you absolutely,
can't I?

[Enter PHIPPS.]

LORD GORING. My dear Robert, of course. Oh! [To PHIPPS.] Bring
some hock and seltzer.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. And Phipps!

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING. Will you excuse me for a moment, Robert? I want to
give some directions to my servant.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Certainly.

LORD GORING. When that lady calls, tell her that I am not expected
home this evening. Tell her that I have been suddenly called out of
town. You understand?

PHIPPS. The lady is in that room, my lord. You told me to show her
into that room, my lord.

LORD GORING. You did perfectly right. [Exit PHIPPS.] What a mess I
am in. No; I think I shall get through it. I'll give her a lecture
through the door. Awkward thing to manage, though.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, tell me what I should do. My life
seems to have crumbled about me. I am a ship without a rudder in a
night without a star.

LORD GORING. Robert, you love your wife, don't you?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I love her more than anything in the world. I
used to think ambition the great thing. It is not. Love is the
great thing in the world. There is nothing but love, and I love her.
But I am defamed in her eyes. I am ignoble in her eyes. There is a
wide gulf between us now. She has found me out, Arthur, she has
found me out.

LORD GORING. Has she never in her life done some folly - some
indiscretion - that she should not forgive your sin?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My wife! Never! She does not know what
weakness or temptation is. I am of clay like other men. She stands
apart as good women do - pitiless in her perfection - cold and stern
and without mercy. But I love her, Arthur. We are childless, and I
have no one else to love, no one else to love me. Perhaps if God had
sent us children she might have been kinder to me. But God has given
us a lonely house. And she has cut my heart in two. Don't let us
talk of it. I was brutal to her this evening. But I suppose when
sinners talk to saints they are brutal always. I said to her things
that were hideously true, on my side, from my stand-point, from the
standpoint of men. But don't let us talk of that

LORD GORING. Your wife will forgive you. Perhaps at this moment she
is forgiving you. She loves you, Robert. Why should she not
forgive?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. God grant it! God grant it! [Buries his face
in his hands.] But there is something more I have to tell you,
Arthur.

[Enter PHIPPS with drinks.]

PHIPPS. [Hands hock and seltzer to SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.] Hock and
seltzer, sir.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you.

LORD GORING. Is your carriage here, Robert?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; I walked from the club.

LORD GORING. Sir Robert will take my cab, Phipps.

PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. [Exit.]

LORD GORING. Robert, you don't mind my sending you away?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, you must let me stay for five minutes.
I have made up my mind what I am going to do to-night in the House.
The debate on the Argentine Canal is to begin at eleven. [A chair
falls in the drawing-room.] What is that?

LORD GORING. Nothing.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I heard a chair fall in the next room. Some
one has been listening.

LORD GORING. No, no; there is no one there.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. There is some one. There are lights in the
room, and the door is ajar. Some one has been listening to every
secret of my life. Arthur, what does this mean?

LORD GORING. Robert, you are excited, unnerved. I tell you there is
no one in that room. Sit down, Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Do you give me your word that there is no one
there?

LORD GORING. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Your word of honour? [Sits down.]

LORD GORING. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rises.] Arthur, let me see for myself.

LORD GORING. No, no.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. If there is no one there why should I not look
in that room? Arthur, you must let me go into that room and satisfy
myself. Let me know that no eavesdropper has heard my life's secret.
Arthur, you don't realise what I am going through.

LORD GORING. Robert, this must stop. I have told you that there is
no one in that room - that is enough.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rushes to the door of the room.] It is not
enough. I insist on going into this room. You have told me there is
no one there, so what reason can you have for refusing me?

LORD GORING. For God's sake, don't! There is some one there. Some
one whom you must not see.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah, I thought so!

LORD GORING. I forbid you to enter that room.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Stand back. My life is at stake. And I don't
care who is there. I will know who it is to whom I have told my
secret and my shame. [Enters room.]

LORD GORING. Great heavens! his own wife!

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN comes back, with a look of scorn and anger on
his face.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What explanation have you to give me for the
presence of that woman here?

LORD GORING. Robert, I swear to you on my honour that that lady is
stainless and guiltless of all offence towards you.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. She is a vile, an infamous thing!

LORD GORING. Don't say that, Robert! It was for your sake she came
here. It was to try and save you she came here. She loves you and
no one else.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You are mad. What have I to do with her
intrigues with you? Let her remain your mistress! You are well
suited to each other. She, corrupt and shameful - you, false as a
friend, treacherous as an enemy even -

LORD GORING. It is not true, Robert. Before heaven, it is not true.
In her presence and in yours I will explain all.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Let me pass, sir. You have lied enough upon
your word of honour.

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN goes out. LORD GORING rushes to the door of the
drawing-room, when MRS. CHEVELEY comes out, looking radiant and much
amused.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a mock curtsey] Good evening, Lord Goring!

LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley! Great heavens! . . . May I ask what you
were doing in my drawing-room?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Merely listening. I have a perfect passion for
listening through keyholes. One always hears such wonderful things
through them.

LORD GORING. Doesn't that sound rather like tempting Providence?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! surely Providence can resist temptation by this
time. [Makes a sign to him to take her cloak off, which he does.]

LORD GORING. I am glad you have called. I am going to give you some
good advice.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! pray don't. One should never give a woman
anything that she can't wear in the evening.

LORD GORING. I see you are quite as wilful as you used to be.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Far more! I have greatly improved. I have had more
experience.

LORD GORING. Too much experience is a dangerous thing. Pray have a
cigarette. Half the pretty women in London smoke cigarettes.
Personally I prefer the other half.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. I never smoke. My dressmaker wouldn't like
it, and a woman's first duty in life is to her dressmaker, isn't it?
What the second duty is, no one has as yet discovered.

LORD GORING. You have come here to sell me Robert Chiltern's letter,
haven't you?

MRS. CHEVELEY. To offer it to you on conditions. How did you guess
that?

LORD GORING. Because you haven't mentioned the subject. Have you
got it with you?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Sitting down.] Oh, no! A well-made dress has no
pockets.

LORD GORING. What is your price for it?

MRS. CHEVELEY. How absurdly English you are! The English think that
a cheque-book can solve every problem in life. Why, my dear Arthur,
I have very much more money than you have, and quite as much as
Robert Chiltern has got hold of. Money is not what I want.

LORD GORING. What do you want then, Mrs. Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Why don't you call me Laura?

LORD GORING. I don't like the name.

MRS. CHEVELEY. You used to adore it.

LORD GORING. Yes: that's why. [MRS. CHEVELEY motions to him to sit
down beside her. He smiles, and does so.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Arthur, you loved me once.

LORD GORING. Yes.

MRS. CHEVELEY. And you asked me to be your wife.

LORD GORING. That was the natural result of my loving you.

MRS. CHEVELEY. And you threw me over because you saw, or said you
saw, poor old Lord Mortlake trying to have a violent flirtation with
me in the conservatory at Tenby.

LORD GORING. I am under the impression that my lawyer settled that
matter with you on certain terms . . . dictated by yourself.

MRS. CHEVELEY. At that time I was poor; you were rich.

LORD GORING. Quite so. That is why you pretended to love me.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shrugging her shoulders.] Poor old Lord Mortlake,
who had only two topics of conversation, his gout and his wife! I
never could quite make out which of the two he was talking about. He
used the most horrible language about them both. Well, you were
silly, Arthur. Why, Lord Mortlake was never anything more to me
than an amusement. One of those utterly tedious amusements one only
finds at an English country house on an English country Sunday. I
don't think any one at all morally responsible for what he or she
does at an English country house.

LORD GORING. Yes. I know lots of people think that.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I loved you, Arthur.

LORD GORING. My dear Mrs. Cheveley, you have always been far too
clever to know anything about love.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I did love you. And you loved me. You know you
loved me; and love is a very wonderful thing. I suppose that when a
man has once loved a woman, he will do anything for her, except
continue to love her? [Puts her hand on his.]

LORD GORING. [Taking his hand away quietly.] Yes: except that.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a pause.] I am tired of living abroad. I
want to come back to London. I want to have a charming house here.
I want to have a salon. If one could only teach the English how to
talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite
civilised. Besides, I have arrived at the romantic stage. When I
saw you last night at the Chilterns', I knew you were the only person
I had ever cared for, if I ever have cared for anybody, Arthur. And
so, on the morning of the day you marry me, I will give you Robert
Chiltern's letter. That is my offer. I will give it to you now, if
you promise to marry me.

LORD GORING. Now?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Smiling.] To-morrow.

LORD GORING. Are you really serious?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes, quite serious.

LORD GORING. I should make you a very bad husband.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I don't mind bad husbands. I have had two. They
amused me immensely.

LORD GORING. You mean that you amused yourself immensely, don't you?

MRS. CHEVELEY. What do you know about my married life?

LORD GORING. Nothing: but I can read it like a book.

MRS. CHEVELEY. What book?

LORD GORING. [Rising.] The Book of Numbers.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Do you think it is quite charming of you to be so
rude to a woman in your own house?

LORD GORING. In the case of very fascinating women, sex is a
challenge, not a defence.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I suppose that is meant for a compliment. My dear
Arthur, women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are.
That is the difference between the two sexes.

LORD GORING. Women are never disarmed by anything, as far as I know
them.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a pause.] Then you are going to allow your
greatest friend, Robert Chiltern, to be ruined, rather than marry
some one who really has considerable attractions left. I thought you
would have risen to some great height of self-sacrifice, Arthur. I
think you should. And the rest of your life you could spend in
contemplating your own perfections.

LORD GORING. Oh! I do that as it is. And self-sacrifice is a thing
that should be put down by law. It is so demoralising to the people
for whom one sacrifices oneself. They always go to the bad.

MRS. CHEVELEY. As if anything could demoralise Robert Chiltern! You
seem to forget that I know his real character.

LORD GORING. What you know about him is not his real character. It
was an act of folly done in his youth, dishonourable, I admit,
shameful, I admit, unworthy of him, I admit, and therefore . . . not
his true character.

MRS. CHEVELEY. How you men stand up for each other!

LORD GORING. How you women war against each other!

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Bitterly.] I only war against one woman, against
Gertrude Chiltern. I hate her. I hate her now more than ever.

LORD GORING. Because you have brought a real tragedy into her life,
I suppose.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a sneer.] Oh, there is only one real tragedy
in a woman's life. The fact that her past is always her lover, and
her future invariably her husband.

LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern knows nothing of the kind of life to
which you are alluding.

MRS. CHEVELEY. A woman whose size in gloves is seven and three-
quarters never knows much about anything. You know Gertrude has
always worn seven and three-quarters? That is one of the reasons why
there was never any moral sympathy between us. . . . Well, Arthur, I
suppose this romantic interview may be regarded as at an end. You
admit it was romantic, don't you? For the privilege of being your
wife I was ready to surrender a great prize, the climax of my
diplomatic career. You decline. Very well. If Sir Robert doesn't
uphold my Argentine scheme, I expose him. VOILE TOUT.

LORD GORING. You mustn't do that. It would be vile, horrible,
infamous.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shrugging her shoulders.] Oh! don't use big words.
They mean so little. It is a commercial transaction. That is all.
There is no good mixing up sentimentality in it. I offered to sell
Robert Chiltern a certain thing. If he won't pay me my price, he
will have to pay the world a greater price. There is no more to be
said. I must go. Good-bye. Won't you shake hands?

LORD GORING. With you? No. Your transaction with Robert Chiltern
may pass as a loathsome commercial transaction of a loathsome
commercial age; but you seem to have forgotten that you came here to-
night to talk of love, you whose lips desecrated the word love, you
to whom the thing is a book closely sealed, went this afternoon to
the house of one of the most noble and gentle women in the world to
degrade her husband in her eyes, to try and kill her love for him, to
put poison in her heart, and bitterness in her life, to break her
idol, and, it may be, spoil her soul. That I cannot forgive you.
That was horrible. For that there can be no forgiveness.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Arthur, you are unjust to me. Believe me, you are
quite unjust to me. I didn't go to taunt Gertrude at all. I had no
idea of doing anything of the kind when I entered. I called with
Lady Markby simply to ask whether an ornament, a jewel, that I lost
somewhere last night, had been found at the Chilterns'. If you don't
believe me, you can ask Lady Markby. She will tell you it is true.
The scene that occurred happened after Lady Markby had left, and was
really forced on me by Gertrude's rudeness and sneers. I called, oh!
- a little out of malice if you like - but really to ask if a diamond
brooch of mine had been found. That was the origin of the whole
thing.

LORD GORING. A diamond snake-brooch with a ruby?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. How do you know?

LORD GORING. Because it is found. In point of fact, I found it
myself, and stupidly forgot to tell the butler anything about it as I
was leaving. [Goes over to the writing-table and pulls out the
drawers.] It is in this drawer. No, that one. This is the brooch,
isn't it? [Holds up the brooch.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I am so glad to get it back. It was . . a
present.

LORD GORING. Won't you wear it?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Certainly, if you pin it in. [LORD GORING suddenly
clasps it on her arm.] Why do you put it on as a bracelet? I never
knew it could he worn as a bracelet.

LORD GORING. Really?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Holding out her handsome arm.] No; but it looks
very well on me as a bracelet, doesn't it?

LORD GORING. Yes; much better than when I saw it last.

MRS. CHEVELEY. When did you see it last?

LORD GORING. [Calmly.] Oh, ten years ago, on Lady Berkshire, from
whom you stole it.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Starting.] What do you mean?

LORD GORING. I mean that you stole that ornament from my cousin,
Mary Berkshire, to whom I gave it when she was married. Suspicion
fell on a wretched servant, who was sent away in disgrace. I
recognised it last night. I determined to say nothing about it till
I had found the thief. I have found the thief now, and I have heard
her own confession.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Tossing her head.] It is not true.

LORD GORING. You know it is true. Why, thief is written across your
face at this moment.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I will deny the whole affair from beginning to end.
I will say that I have never seen this wretched thing, that it was
never in my possession.

[MRS. CHEVELEY tries to get the bracelet off her arm, but fails.
LORD GORING looks on amused. Her thin fingers tear at the jewel to
no purpose. A curse breaks from her.]

LORD GORING. The drawback of stealing a thing, Mrs. Cheveley, is
that one never knows how wonderful the thing that one steals is. You
can't get that bracelet off, unless you know where the spring is.
And I see you don't know where the spring is. It is rather difficult
to find.

MRS. CHEVELEY. You brute! You coward! [She tries again to unclasp
the bracelet, but fails.]

LORD GORING. Oh! don't use big words. They mean so little.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Again tears at the bracelet in a paroxysm of rage,
with inarticulate sounds. Then stops, and looks at LORD GORING.]
What are you going to do?

LORD GORING. I am going to ring for my servant. He is an admirable
servant. Always comes in the moment one rings for him. When he
comes I will tell him to fetch the police.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Trembling.] The police? What for?

LORD GORING. To-morrow the Berkshires will prosecute you. That is
what the police are for.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Is now in an agony of physical terror. Her face is
distorted. Her mouth awry. A mask has fallen from her. She it, for
the moment, dreadful to look at.] Don't do that. I will do anything
you want. Anything in the world you want.

LORD GORING. Give me Robert Chiltern's letter.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Stop! Stop! Let me have time to think.

LORD GORING. Give me Robert Chiltern's letter.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I have not got it with me. I will give it to you to-
morrow.

LORD GORING. You know you are lying. Give it to me at once. [MRS.
CHEVELEY pulls the letter out, and hands it to him. She is horribly
pale.] This is it?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [In a hoarse voice.] Yes.

LORD GORING. [Takes the letter, examines it, sighs, and burns it
with the lamp.] For so well-dressed a woman, Mrs. Cheveley, you have
moments of admirable common sense. I congratulate you.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Catches sight of LADY CHILTERN'S letter, the cover
of which is just showing from under the blotting-book.] Please get
me a glass of water.

LORD GORING. Certainly. [Goes to the corner of the room and pours
out a glass of water. While his back is turned MRS. CHEVELEY steals
LADY CHILTERN'S letter. When LORD GORING returns the glass she
refuses it with a gesture.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. Will you help me on with my cloak?

LORD GORING. With pleasure. [Puts her cloak on.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. I am never going to try to harm Robert
Chiltern again.

LORD GORING. Fortunately you have not the chance, Mrs. Cheveley.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Well, if even I had the chance, I wouldn't. On the
contrary, I am going to render him a great service.

LORD GORING. I am charmed to hear it. It is a reformation.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I can't bear so upright a gentleman, so
honourable an English gentleman, being so shamefully deceived, and so
-

LORD GORING. Well?

MRS. CHEVELEY. I find that somehow Gertrude Chiltern's dying speech
and confession has strayed into my pocket.

LORD GORING. What do you mean?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a bitter note of triumph in her voice.] I mean
that I am going to send Robert Chiltern the love-letter his wife
wrote to you to-night.

LORD GORING. Love-letter?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Laughing.] 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming
to you. Gertrude.'

[LORD GORING rushes to the bureau and takes up the envelope, finds is
empty, and turns round.]

LORD GORING. You wretched woman, must you always be thieving? Give
me back that letter. I'll take it from you by force. You shall not
leave my room till I have got it.

[He rushes towards her, but MRS. CHEVELEY at once puts her hand on
the electric bell that is on the table. The bell sounds with shrill
reverberations, and PHIPPS enters.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a pause.] Lord Goring merely rang that you
should show me out. Good-night, Lord Goring!

[Goes out followed by PHIPPS. Her face it illumined with evil
triumph. There is joy in her eyes. Youth seems to have come back to
her. Her last glance is like a swift arrow. LORD GORING bites his
lip, and lights his a cigarette.]

ACT DROPS

FOURTH ACT

SCENE

Same as Act II.

[LORD GORING is standing by the fireplace with his hands in his
pockets. He is looking rather bored.]

LORD GORING. [Pulls out his watch, inspects it, and rings the bell.]
It is a great nuisance. I can't find any one in this house to talk
to. And I am full of interesting information. I feel like the
latest edition of something or other.

[Enter servant.]

JAMES. Sir Robert is still at the Foreign Office, my lord.

LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern not down yet?

JAMES. Her ladyship has not yet left her room. Miss Chiltern has
just come in from riding.

LORD GORING. [To himself.] Ah! that is something.

JAMES. Lord Caversham has been waiting some time in the library for
Sir Robert. I told him your lordship was here.

LORD GORING. Thank you! Would you kindly tell him I've gone?

JAMES. [Bowing.] I shall do so, my lord.

[Exit servant.]

LORD GORING. Really, I don't want to meet my father three days
running. It is a great deal too much excitement for any son. I hope
to goodness he won't come up. Fathers should be neither seen nor
heard. That is the only proper basin for family life. Mothers are
different. Mothers are darlings. [Throws himself down into a chair,
picks up a paper and begins to read it.]

[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, what are you doing here? Wasting your
time as usual, I suppose?

LORD GORING. [Throws down paper and rises.] My dear father, when
one pays a visit it is for the purpose of wasting other people's
time, not one's own.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Have you been thinking over what I spoke to you
about last night?

LORD GORING. I have been thinking about nothing else.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Engaged to be married yet?

LORD GORING. [Genially.] Not yet: but I hope to be before lunch-
time.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Caustically.] You can have till dinner-time if it
would be of any convenience to you.

LORD GORING. Thanks awfully, but I think I'd sooner be engaged
before lunch.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Humph! Never know when you are serious or not.

LORD GORING. Neither do I, father.

[A pause.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. I suppose you have read THE TIMES this morning?

LORD GORING. [Airily.] THE TIMES? Certainly not. I only read THE
MORNING POST. All that one should know about modern life is where
the Duchesses are; anything else is quite demoralising.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Do you mean to say you have not read THE TIMES
leading article on Robert Chiltern's career?

LORD GORING. Good heavens! No. What does it say?

LORD CAVERSHAM. What should it say, sir? Everything complimentary,
of course. Chiltern's speech last night on this Argentine Canal
scheme was one of the finest pieces of oratory ever delivered in the
House since Canning.

LORD GORING. Ah! Never heard of Canning. Never wanted to. And did
. . . did Chiltern uphold the scheme?

LORD CAVERSHAM. Uphold it, sir? How little you know him! Why, he
denounced it roundly, and the whole system of modern political
finance. This speech is the turning-point in his career, as THE
TIMES points out. You should read this article, sir. [Opens THE
TIMES.] 'Sir Robert Chiltern . . . most rising of our young
statesmen . . . Brilliant orator . . . Unblemished career . . . Well-
known integrity of character . . . Represents what is best in English
public life . . . Noble contrast to the lax morality so common among
foreign politicians.' They will never say that of you, sir.

LORD GORING. I sincerely hope not, father. However, I am delighted
at what you tell me about Robert, thoroughly delighted. It shows he
has got pluck.

LORD CAVERSHAM. He has got more than pluck, sir, he has got genius.

LORD GORING. Ah! I prefer pluck. It is not so common, nowadays, as
genius is.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I wish you would go into Parliament.

LORD GORING. My dear father, only people who look dull ever get into
the House of Commons, and only people who are dull ever succeed
there.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Why don't you try to do something useful in life?

LORD GORING. I am far too young.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Testily.] I hate this affectation of youth, sir.
It is a great deal too prevalent nowadays.

LORD GORING. Youth isn't an affectation. Youth is an art.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Why don't you propose to that pretty Miss Chiltern?

LORD GORING. I am of a very nervous disposition, especially in the
morning.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I don't suppose there is the smallest chance of her
accepting you.

LORD GORING. I don't know how the betting stands to-day.

LORD CAVERSHAM. If she did accept you she would be the prettiest
fool in England.

LORD GORING. That is just what I should like to marry. A thoroughly
sensible wife would reduce me to a condition of absolute idiocy in
less than six months.

LORD CAVERSHAM. You don't deserve her, sir.

LORD GORING. My dear father, if we men married the women we
deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.

[Enter MABEL CHILTERN.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! . . . How do you do, Lord Caversham? I hope
Lady Caversham is quite well?

LORD CAVERSHAM. Lady Caversham is as usual, as usual.

LORD GORING. Good morning, Miss Mabel!

MABEL CHILTERN. [Taking no notice at all of LORD GORING, and
addressing herself exclusively to LORD CAVERSHAM.] And Lady
Caversham's bonnets . . . are they at all better?

LORD CAVERSHAM. They have had a serious relapse, I am sorry to say.

LORD GORING. Good morning, Miss Mabel!

MABEL CHILTERN. [To LORD CAVERSHAM.] I hope an operation will not
be necessary.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Smiling at her pertness.] If it is, we shall have
to give Lady Caversham a narcotic. Otherwise she would never consent
to have a feather touched.

LORD GORING. [With increased emphasis.] Good morning, Miss Mabel!

MABEL CHILTERN. [Turning round with feigned surprise.] Oh, are you
here? Of course you understand that after your breaking your
appointment I am never going to speak to you again.

LORD GORING. Oh, please don't say such a thing. You are the one
person in London I really like to have to listen to me.

MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, I never believe a single word that
either you or I say to each other.

LORD CAVERSHAM. You are quite right, my dear, quite right . . . as
far as he is concerned, I mean.

MABEL CHILTERN. Do you think you could possibly make your son behave
a little better occasionally? Just as a change.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I regret to say, Miss Chiltern, that I have no
influence at all over my son. I wish I had. If I had, I know what I
would make him do.

MABEL CHILTERN. I am afraid that he has one of those terribly weak
natures that are not susceptible to influence.

LORD CAVERSHAM. He is very heartless, very heartless.

LORD GORING. It seems to me that I am a little in the way here.

MABEL CHILTERN. It is very good for you to be in the way, and to
know what people say of you behind your back.

LORD GORING. I don't at all like knowing what people say of me
behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.

LORD CAVERSHAM. After that, my dear, I really must bid you good
morning.

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I hope you are not going to leave me all alone
with Lord Goring? Especially at such an early hour in the day.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I am afraid I can't take him with me to Downing
Street. It is not the Prime Minster's day for seeing the unemployed.

[Shakes hands with MABEL CHILTERN, takes up his hat and stick, and
goes out, with a parting glare of indignation at LORD GORING.]

MABEL CHILTERN. [Takes up roses and begins to arrange them in a bowl
on the table.] People who don't keep their appointments in the Park
are horrid.

LORD GORING. Detestable.

MABEL CHILTERN. I am glad you admit it. But I wish you wouldn't
look so pleased about it.

LORD GORING. I can't help it. I always look pleased when I am with
you.

MABEL CHILTERN. [Sadly.] Then I suppose it is my duty to remain
with you?

LORD GORING. Of course it is.

MABEL CHILTERN. Well, my duty is a thing I never do, on principle.
It always depresses me. So I am afraid I must leave you.

LORD GORING. Please don't, Miss Mabel. I have something very
particular to say to you.

MABEL CHILTERN. [Rapturously.] Oh! is it a proposal?

LORD GORING. [Somewhat taken aback.] Well, yes, it is - I am bound
to say it is.

MABEL CHILTERN. [With a sigh of pleasure.] I am so glad. That
makes the second to-day.

LORD GORING. [Indignantly.] The second to-day? What conceited ass
has been impertinent enough to dare to propose to you before I had
proposed to you?

MABEL CHILTERN. Tommy Trafford, of course. It is one of Tommy's
days for proposing. He always proposes on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
during the Season.

LORD GORING. You didn't accept him, I hope?

MABEL CHILTERN. I make it a rule never to accept Tommy. That is why
he goes on proposing. Of course, as you didn't turn up this morning,
I very nearly said yes. It would have been an excellent lesson both
for him and for you if I had. It would have taught you both better
manners.

LORD GORING. Oh! bother Tommy Trafford. Tommy is a silly little
ass. I love you.

MABEL CHILTERN. I know. And I think you might have mentioned it
before. I am sure I have given you heaps of opportunities.

LORD GORING. Mabel, do be serious. Please be serious.

MABEL CHILTERN. Ah! that is the sort of thing a man always says to a
girl before he has been married to her. He never says it afterwards.

LORD GORING. [Taking hold of her hand.] Mabel, I have told you that
I love you. Can't you love me a little in return?

MABEL CHILTERN. You silly Arthur! If you knew anything about . . .
anything, which you don't, you would know that I adore you. Every
one in London knows it except you. It is a public scandal the way I
adore you. I have been going about for the last six months telling
the whole of society that I adore you. I wonder you consent to have
anything to say to me. I have no character left at all. At least, I
feel so happy that I am quite sure I have no character left at all.

LORD GORING. [Catches her in his arms and kisses her. Then there is
a pause of bliss.] Dear! Do you know I was awfully afraid of being
refused!

MABEL CHILTERN. [Looking up at him.] But you never have been
refused yet by anybody, have you, Arthur? I can't imagine any one
refusing you.

LORD GORING. [After kissing her again.] Of course I'm not nearly
good enough for you, Mabel.

MABEL CHILTERN. [Nestling close to him.] I am so glad, darling. I
was afraid you were.

LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] And I'm . . . I'm a little
over thirty.

MABEL CHILTERN. Dear, you look weeks younger than that.

LORD GORING. [Enthusiastically.] How sweet of you to say so! . . .
And it is only fair to tell you frankly that I am fearfully
extravagant.

MABEL CHILTERN. But so am I, Arthur. So we're sure to agree. And
now I must go and see Gertrude.

LORD GORING. Must you really? [Kisses her.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Yes.

LORD GORING. Then do tell her I want to talk to her particularly. I
have been waiting here all the morning to see either her or Robert.

MABEL CHILTERN. Do you mean to say you didn't come here expressly to
propose to me?

LORD GORING. [Triumphantly.] No; that was a flash of genius.

MABEL CHILTERN. Your first.

LORD GORING. [With determination.] My last.

MABEL CHILTERN. I am delighted to hear it. Now don't stir. I'll be
back in five minutes. And don't fall into any temptations while I am
away.

LORD GORING. Dear Mabel, while you are away, there are none. It
makes me horribly dependent on you.

[Enter LADY CHILTERN.]

LADY CHILTERN. Good morning, dear! How pretty you are looking!

MABEL CHILTERN. How pale you are looking, Gertrude! It is most
becoming!

LADY CHILTERN. Good morning, Lord Goring!

LORD GORING. [Bowing.] Good morning, Lady Chiltern!

MABEL CHILTERN. [Aside to LORD GORING.] I shall be in the
conservatory under the second palm tree on the left.

LORD GORING. Second on the left?

MABEL CHILTERN. [With a look of mock surprise.] Yes; the usual palm
tree.

[Blows a kiss to him, unobserved by LADY CHILTERN, and goes out.]

LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, I have a certain amount of very good
news to tell you. Mrs. Cheveley gave me up Robert's letter last
night, and I burned it. Robert is safe.

LADY CHILTERN. [Sinking on the sofa.] Safe! Oh! I am so glad of
that. What a good friend you are to him - to us!

LORD GORING. There is only one person now that could be said to be
in any danger.

LADY CHILTERN. Who is that?

LORD GORING. [Sitting down beside her.] Yourself.

LADY CHILTERN. I? In danger? What do you mean?

LORD GORING. Danger is too great a word. It is a word I should not
have used. But I admit I have something to tell you that may
distress you, that terribly distresses me. Yesterday evening you
wrote me a very beautiful, womanly letter, asking me for my help.
You wrote to me as one of your oldest friends, one of your husband's

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