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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

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oldest friends. Mrs. Cheveley stole that letter from my rooms.

LADY CHILTERN. Well, what use is it to her? Why should she not have
it?

LORD GORING. [Rising.] Lady Chiltern, I will be quite frank with
you. Mrs. Cheveley puts a certain construction on that letter and
proposes to send it to your husband.

LADY CHILTERN. But what construction could she put on it? . . . Oh!
not that! not that! If I in - in trouble, and wanting your help,
trusting you, propose to come to you . . . that you may advise me . .
. assist me . . . Oh! are there women so horrible as that . . .? And
she proposes to send it to my husband? Tell me what happened. Tell
me all that happened.

LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley was concealed in a room adjoining my
library, without my knowledge. I thought that the person who was
waiting in that room to see me was yourself. Robert came in
unexpectedly. A chair or something fell in the room. He forced his
way in, and he discovered her. We had a terrible scene. I still
thought it was you. He left me in anger. At the end of everything
Mrs. Cheveley got possession of your letter - she stole it, when or
how, I don't know.

LADY CHILTERN. At what hour did this happen?

LORD GORING. At half-past ten. And now I propose that we tell
Robert the whole thing at once.

LADY CHILTERN. [Looking at him with amazement that is almost
terror.] You want me to tell Robert that the woman you expected was
not Mrs. Cheveley, but myself? That it was I whom you thought was
concealed in a room in your house, at half-past ten o'clock at night?
You want me to tell him that?

LORD GORING. I think it is better that he should know the exact
truth.

LADY CHILTERN. [Rising.] Oh, I couldn't, I couldn't!

LORD GORING. May I do it?

LADY CHILTERN. No.

LORD GORING. [Gravely.] You are wrong, Lady Chiltern.

LADY CHILTERN. No. The letter must be intercepted. That is all.
But how can I do it? Letters arrive for him every moment of the day.
His secretaries open them and hand them to him. I dare not ask the
servants to bring me his letters. It would be impossible. Oh! why
don't you tell me what to do?

LORD GORING. Pray be calm, Lady Chiltern, and answer the questions I
am going to put to you. You said his secretaries open his letters.

LADY CHILTERN. Yes.

LORD GORING. Who is with him to-day? Mr. Trafford, isn't it?

LADY CHILTERN. No. Mr. Montford, I think.

LORD GORING. You can trust him?

LADY CHILTERN. [With a gesture of despair.] Oh! how do I know?

LORD GORING. He would do what you asked him, wouldn't he?

LADY CHILTERN. I think so.

LORD GORING. Your letter was on pink paper. He could recognise it
without reading it, couldn't he? By the colour?

LADY CHILTERN. I suppose so.

LORD GORING. Is he in the house now?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes.

LORD GORING. Then I will go and see him myself, and tell him that a
certain letter, written on pink paper, is to be forwarded to Robert
to-day, and that at all costs it must not reach him. [Goes to the
door, and opens it.] Oh! Robert is coming upstairs with the letter
in his hand. It has reached him already.

LADY CHILTERN. [With a cry of pain.] Oh! you have saved his life;
what have you done with mine?

[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. He has the letter in his hand, and is
reading it. He comes towards his wife, not noticing LORD GORING'S
presence.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you.
Gertrude.' Oh, my love! Is this true? Do you indeed trust me, and
want me? If so, it was for me to come to you, not for you to write
of coming to me. This letter of yours, Gertrude, makes me feel that
nothing that the world may do can hurt me now. You want me,
Gertrude?

[LORD GORING, unseen by SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, makes an imploring sign
to LADY CHILTERN to accept the situation and SIR ROBERT'S error.]

LADY CHILTERN. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You trust me, Gertrude?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! why did you not add you loved me?

LADY CHILTERN. [Taking his hand.] Because I loved you.

[LORD GORING passes into the conservatory.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Kisses her.] Gertrude, you don't know what I
feel. When Montford passed me your letter across the table - he had
opened it by mistake, I suppose, without looking at the handwriting
on the envelope - and I read it - oh! I did not care what disgrace or
punishment was in store for me, I only thought you loved me still.

LADY CHILTERN. There is no disgrace in store for you, nor any public
shame. Mrs. Cheveley has handed over to Lord Goring the document
that was in her possession, and he has destroyed it.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Are you sure of this, Gertrude?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes; Lord Goring has just told me.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Then I am safe! Oh! what a wonderful thing to
be safe! For two days I have been in terror. I am safe now. How
did Arthur destroy my letter? Tell me.

LADY CHILTERN. He burned it.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I wish I had seen that one sin of my youth
burning to ashes. How many men there are in modern life who would
like to see their past burning to white ashes before them! Is Arthur
still here?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes; he is in the conservatory.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am so glad now I made that speech last night
in the House, so glad. I made it thinking that public disgrace might
be the result. But it has not been so.

LADY CHILTERN. Public honour has been the result.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I think so. I fear so, almost. For although I
am safe from detection, although every proof against me is destroyed,
I suppose, Gertrude . . . I suppose I should retire from public life?
[He looks anxiously at his wife.]

LADY CHILTERN. [Eagerly.] Oh yes, Robert, you should do that. It
is your duty to do that.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is much to surrender.

LADY CHILTERN. No; it will be much to gain.

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN walks up and down the room with a troubled
expression. Then comes over to his wife, and puts his hand on her
shoulder.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And you would be happy living somewhere alone
with me, abroad perhaps, or in the country away from London, away
from public life? You would have no regrets?

LADY CHILTERN. Oh! none, Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sadly.] And your ambition for me? You used
to be ambitious for me.

LADY CHILTERN. Oh, my ambition! I have none now, but that we two
may love each other. It was your ambition that led you astray. Let
us not talk about ambition.

[LORD GORING returns from the conservatory, looking very pleased with
himself, and with an entirely new buttonhole that some one has made
for him.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Going towards him.] Arthur, I have to thank
you for what you have done for me. I don't know how I can repay you.
[Shakes hands with him.]

LORD GORING. My dear fellow, I'll tell you at once. At the present
moment, under the usual palm tree . . . I mean in the conservatory .
. .

[Enter MASON.]

MASON. Lord Caversham.

LORD GORING. That admirable father of mine really makes a habit of
turning up at the wrong moment. It is very heartless of him, very
heartless indeed.

[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM. MASON goes out.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Good morning, Lady Chiltern! Warmest
congratulations to you, Chiltern, on your brilliant speech last
night. I have just left the Prime Minister, and you are to have the
vacant seat in the Cabinet.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a look of joy and triumph.] A seat in
the Cabinet?

LORD CAVERSHAM. Yes; here is the Prime Minister's letter. [Hands
letter.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Takes letter and reads it.] A seat in the
Cabinet!

LORD CAVERSHAM. Certainly, and you well deserve it too. You have
got what we want so much in political life nowadays - high character,
high moral tone, high principles. [To LORD GORING.] Everything that
you have not got, sir, and never will have.

LORD GORING. I don't like principles, father. I prefer prejudices.

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN is on the brink of accepting the Prime
Minister's offer, when he sees wife looking at him with her clear,
candid eyes. He then realises that it is impossible.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I cannot accept this offer, Lord Caversham. I
have made up my mind to decline it.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Decline it, sir!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My intention is to retire at once from public
life.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Angrily.] Decline a seat in the Cabinet, and
retire from public life? Never heard such damned nonsense in the
whole course of my existence. I beg your pardon, Lady Chiltern.
Chiltern, I beg your pardon. [To LORD GORING.] Don't grin like
that, sir.

LORD GORING. No, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Lady Chiltern, you are a sensible woman, the most
sensible woman in London, the most sensible woman I know. Will you
kindly prevent your husband from making such a . . . from taking such
. . . Will you kindly do that, Lady Chiltern?

LADY CHILTERN. I think my husband in right in his determination,
Lord Caversham. I approve of it.

LORD CAVERSHAM. You approve of it? Good heavens!

LADY CHILTERN. [Taking her husband's hand.] I admire him for it. I
admire him immensely for it. I have never admired him so much
before. He is finer than even I thought him. [To SIR ROBERT
CHILTERN.] You will go and write your letter to the Prime Minister
now, won't you? Don't hesitate about it, Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a touch of bitterness.] I suppose I had
better write it at once. Such offers are not repeated. I will ask
you to excuse me for a moment, Lord Caversham.

LADY CHILTERN. I may come with you, Robert, may I not?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes, Gertrude.

[LADY CHILTERN goes out with him.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. What is the matter with this family? Something
wrong here, eh? [Tapping his forehead.] Idiocy? Hereditary, I
suppose. Both of them, too. Wife as well as husband. Very sad.
Very sad indeed! And they are not an old family. Can't understand
it.

LORD GORING. It is not idiocy, father, I assure you.

LORD CAVERSHAM. What is it then, sir?

LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Well, it is what is called
nowadays a high moral tone, father. That is all.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Hate these new-fangled names. Same thing as we used
to call idiocy fifty years ago. Shan't stay in this house any
longer.

LORD GORING. [Taking his arm.] Oh! just go in here for a moment,
father. Third palm tree to the left, the usual palm tree.

LORD CAVERSHAM. What, sir?

LORD GORING. I beg your pardon, father, I forgot. The conservatory,
father, the conservatory - there is some one there I want you to talk
to.

LORD CAVERSHAM. What about, sir?

LORD GORING. About me, father,

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Grimly.] Not a subject on which much eloquence is
possible.

LORD GORING. No, father; but the lady is like me. She doesn't care
much for eloquence in others. She thinks it a little loud.

[LORD CAVERSHAM goes out into the conservatory. LADY CHILTERN
enters.]

LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, why are you playing Mrs. Cheveley's
cards?

LADY CHILTERN. [Startled.] I don't understand you.

LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley made an attempt to ruin your husband.
Either to drive him from public life, or to make him adopt a
dishonourable position. From the latter tragedy you saved him. The
former you are now thrusting on him. Why should you do him the wrong
Mrs. Cheveley tried to do and failed?

LADY CHILTERN. Lord Goring?

LORD GORING. [Pulling himself together for a great effort, and
showing the philosopher that underlies the dandy.] Lady Chiltern,
allow me. You wrote me a letter last night in which you said you
trusted me and wanted my help. Now is the moment when you really
want my help, now is the time when you have got to trust me, to trust
in my counsel and judgment. You love Robert. Do you want to kill
his love for you? What sort of existence will he have if you rob him
of the fruits of his ambition, if you take him from the splendour of
a great political career, if you close the doors of public life
against him, if you condemn him to sterile failure, he who was made
for triumph and success? Women are not meant to judge us, but to
forgive us when we need forgiveness. Pardon, not punishment, is
their mission. Why should you scourge him with rods for a sin done
in his youth, before he knew you, before he knew himself? A man's
life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider
scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of
emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life
progresses. Don't make any terrible mistake, Lady Chiltern. A woman
who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the
world wants of women, or should want of them.

LADY CHILTERN. [Troubled and hesitating.] But it is my husband
himself who wishes to retire from public life. He feels it is his
duty. It was he who first said so.

LORD GORING. Rather than lose your love, Robert would do anything,
wreck his whole career, as he is on the brink of doing now. He is
making for you a terrible sacrifice. Take my advice, Lady Chiltern,
and do not accept a sacrifice so great. If you do, you will live to
repent it bitterly. We men and women are not made to accept such
sacrifices from each other. We are not worthy of them. Besides,
Robert has been punished enough.

LADY CHILTERN. We have both been punished. I set him up too high.

LORD GORING. [With deep feeling in his voice.] Do not for that
reason set him down now too low. If he has fallen from his altar, do
not thrust him into the mire. Failure to Robert would be the very
mire of shame. Power is his passion. He would lose everything, even
his power to feel love. Your husband's life is at this moment in
your hands, your husband's love is in your hands. Don't mar both for
him.

[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, here is the draft of my letter.
Shall I read it to you?

LADY CHILTERN. Let me see it.

[SIR ROBERT hands her the letter. She reads it, and then, with a
gesture of passion, tears it up.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What are you doing?

LADY CHILTERN. A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has
larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. Our lives revolve in
curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life
progresses. I have just learnt this, and much else with it, from
Lord Goring. And I will not spoil your life for you, nor see you
spoil it as a sacrifice to me, a useless sacrifice!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude! Gertrude!

LADY CHILTERN. You can forget. Men easily forget. And I forgive.
That is how women help the world. I see that now.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Deeply overcome by emotion, embraces her.] My
wife! my wife! [To LORD GORING.] Arthur, it seems that I am always
to be in your debt.

LORD GORING. Oh dear no, Robert. Your debt is to Lady Chiltern, not
to me!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I owe you much. And now tell me what you were
going to ask me just now as Lord Caversham came in.

LORD GORING. Robert, you are your sister's guardian, and I want your
consent to my marriage with her. That is all.

LADY CHILTERN. Oh, I am so glad! I am so glad! [Shakes hands with
LORD GORING.]

LORD GORING. Thank you, Lady Chiltern.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a troubled look.] My sister to be your
wife?

LORD GORING. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Speaking with great firmness.] Arthur, I am
very sorry, but the thing is quite out of the question. I have to
think of Mabel's future happiness. And I don't think her happiness
would be safe in your hands. And I cannot have her sacrificed!

LORD GORING. Sacrificed!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes, utterly sacrificed. Loveless marriages
are horrible. But there is one thing worse than an absolutely
loveless marriage. A marriage in which there is love, but on one
side only; faith, but on one side only; devotion, but on one side
only, and in which of the two hearts one is sure to be broken.

LORD GORING. But I love Mabel. No other woman has any place in my
life.

LADY CHILTERN. Robert, if they love each other, why should they not
be married?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur cannot bring Mabel the love that she
deserves.

LORD GORING. What reason have you for saying that?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Do you really require me to
tell you?

LORD GORING. Certainly I do.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. As you choose. When I called on you yesterday
evening I found Mrs. Cheveley concealed in your rooms. It was
between ten and eleven o'clock at night. I do not wish to say
anything more. Your relations with Mrs. Cheveley have, as I said to
you last night, nothing whatsoever to do with me. I know you were
engaged to be married to her once. The fascination she exercised
over you then seems to have returned. You spoke to me last night of
her as of a woman pure and stainless, a woman whom you respected and
honoured. That may be so. But I cannot give my sister's life into
your hands. It would be wrong of me. It would be unjust, infamously
unjust to her.

LORD GORING. I have nothing more to say.

LADY CHILTERN. Robert, it was not Mrs. Cheveley whom Lord Goring
expected last night.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Not Mrs. Cheveley! Who was it then?

LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern!

LADY CHILTERN. It was your own wife. Robert, yesterday afternoon
Lord Goring told me that if ever I was in trouble I could come to him
for help, as he was our oldest and best friend. Later on, after that
terrible scene in this room, I wrote to him telling him that I
trusted him, that I had need of him, that I was coming to him for
help and advice. [SIR ROBERT CHILTERN takes the letter out of his
pocket.] Yes, that letter. I didn't go to Lord Goring's, after all.
I felt that it is from ourselves alone that help can come. Pride
made me think that. Mrs. Cheveley went. She stole my letter and
sent it anonymously to you this morning, that you should think . . .
Oh! Robert, I cannot tell you what she wished you to think. . . .

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What! Had I fallen so low in your eyes that
you thought that even for a moment I could have doubted your
goodness? Gertrude, Gertrude, you are to me the white image of all
good things, and sin can never touch you. Arthur, you can go to
Mabel, and you have my best wishes! Oh! stop a moment. There is no
name at the beginning of this letter. The brilliant Mrs. Cheveley
does not seem to have noticed that. There should be a name.

LADY CHILTERN. Let me write yours. It is you I trust and need. You
and none else.

LORD GORING. Well, really, Lady Chiltern, I think I should have back
my own letter.

LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] No; you shall have Mabel. [Takes the
letter and writes her husband's name on it.]

LORD GORING. Well, I hope she hasn't changed her mind. It's nearly
twenty minutes since I saw her last.

[Enter MABEL CHILTERN and LORD CAVERSHAM.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, I think your father's conversation much
more improving than yours. I am only going to talk to Lord Caversham
in the future, and always under the usual palm tree.

LORD GORING. Darling! [Kisses her.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Considerably taken aback.] What does this mean,
sir? You don't mean to say that this charming, clever young lady has
been so foolish as to accept you?

LORD GORING. Certainly, father! And Chiltern's been wise enough to
accept the seat in the Cabinet.

LORD CAVERSHAM. I am very glad to hear that, Chiltern . . . I
congratulate you, sir. If the country doesn't go to the dogs or the
Radicals, we shall have you Prime Minister, some day.

[Enter MASON.]

MASON. Luncheon is on the table, my Lady!

[MASON goes out.]

MABEL CHILTERN. You'll stop to luncheon, Lord Caversham, won't you?

LORD CAVERSHAM. With pleasure, and I'll drive you down to Downing
Street afterwards, Chiltern. You have a great future before you, a
great future. Wish I could say the same for you, sir. [To LORD
GORING.] But your career will have to be entirely domestic.

LORD GORING. Yes, father, I prefer it domestic.

LORD CAVERSHAM. And if you don't make this young lady an ideal
husband, I'll cut you off with a shilling.

MABEL CHILTERN. An ideal husband! Oh, I don't think I should like
that. It sounds like something in the next world.

LORD CAVERSHAM. What do you want him to be then, dear?

MABEL CHILTERN. He can be what he chooses. All I want is to be . .
. to be . . . oh! a real wife to him.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Upon my word, there is a good deal of common sense
in that, Lady Chiltern.

[They all go out except SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. He sinks in a chair,
wrapt in thought. After a little time LADY CHILTERN returns to look
for him.]

LADY CHILTERN. [Leaning over the back of the chair.] Aren't you
coming in, Robert?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Taking her hand.] Gertrude, is it love you
feel for me, or is it pity merely?

LADY CHILTERN. [Kisses him.] It is love, Robert. Love, and only
love. For both of us a new life is beginning.

CURTAIN

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