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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

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An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde
Scanned and proofed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

An Ideal Husband

THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY

THE EARL OF CAVERSHAM, K.G.
VISCOUNT GORING, his Son
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, Bart., Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
VICOMTE DE NANJAC, Attache at the French Embassy in London
MR. MONTFORD
MASON, Butler to Sir Robert Chiltern
PHIPPS, Lord Goring's Servant
JAMES }
HAROLD } Footmen
LADY CHILTERN
LADY MARKBY
THE COUNTESS OF BASILDON
MRS. MARCHMONT
MISS MABEL CHILTERN, Sir Robert Chiltern's Sister
MRS. CHEVELEY

THE SCENES OF THE PLAY

ACT I. The Octagon Room in Sir Robert Chiltern's House in Grosvenor
Square.
ACT II. Morning-room in Sir Robert Chiltern's House.
ACT III. The Library of Lord Goring's House in Curzon Street.
ACT IV. Same as Act II.

TIME: The Present
PLACE: London.

The action of the play is completed within twenty-four hours.

THEATRE ROYAL, HAYMARKET

Sole Lessee: Mr. Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Managers: Mr. Lewis Waller and Mr. H. H. Morell
January 3rd, 1895

THE EARL OF CAVERSHAM, Mr. Alfred Bishop.
VISCOUNT GORING, Mr. Charles H. Hawtrey.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, Mr. Lewis Waller.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC, Mr. Cosmo Stuart.
MR. MONTFORD, Mr. Harry Stanford.
PHIPPS, Mr. C. H. Brookfield.
MASON, Mr. H. Deane.
JAMES, Mr. Charles Meyrick.
HAROLD, Mr. Goodhart.
LADY CHILTERN, Miss Julia Neilson.
LADY MARKBY, Miss Fanny Brough.
COUNTESS OF BASILDON, Miss Vane Featherston.
MRS. MARCHMONT, Miss Helen Forsyth.
MISS MABEL CHILTERN, Miss Maud Millet.
MRS. CHEVELEY, Miss Florence West.

FIRST ACT

SCENE

The octagon room at Sir Robert Chiltern's house in Grosvenor Square.

[The room is brilliantly lighted and full of guests. At the top of
the staircase stands LADY CHILTERN, a woman of grave Greek beauty,
about twenty-seven years of age. She receives the guests as they
come up. Over the well of the staircase hangs a great chandelier
with wax lights, which illumine a large eighteenth-century French
tapestry - representing the Triumph of Love, from a design by Boucher
- that is stretched on the staircase wall. On the right is the
entrance to the music-room. The sound of a string quartette is
faintly heard. The entrance on the left leads to other reception-
rooms. MRS. MARCHMONT and LADY BASILDON, two very pretty women, are
seated together on a Louis Seize sofa. They are types of exquisite
fragility. Their affectation of manner has a delicate charm.
Watteau would have loved to paint them.]

MRS. MARCHMONT. Going on to the Hartlocks' to-night, Margaret?

LADY BASILDON. I suppose so. Are you?

MRS. MARCHMONT. Yes. Horribly tedious parties they give, don't
they?

LADY BASILDON. Horribly tedious! Never know why I go. Never know
why I go anywhere.

MRS. MARCHMONT. I come here to be educated

LADY BASILDON. Ah! I hate being educated!

MRS. MARCHMONT. So do I. It puts one almost on a level with the
commercial classes, doesn't it? But dear Gertrude Chiltern is always
telling me that I should have some serious purpose in life. So I
come here to try to find one.

LADY BASILDON. [Looking round through her lorgnette.] I don't see
anybody here to-night whom one could possibly call a serious purpose.
The man who took me in to dinner talked to me about his wife the
whole time.

MRS. MARCHMONT. How very trivial of him!

LADY BASILDON. Terribly trivial! What did your man talk about?

MRS. MARCHMONT. About myself.

LADY BASILDON. [Languidly.] And were you interested?

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Shaking her head.] Not in the smallest degree.

LADY BASILDON. What martyrs we are, dear Margaret!

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Rising.] And how well it becomes us, Olivia!

[They rise and go towards the music-room. The VICOMTE DE NANJAC, a
young attache known for his neckties and his Anglomania, approaches
with a low bow, and enters into conversation.]

MASON. [Announcing guests from the top of the staircase.] Mr. and
Lady Jane Barford. Lord Caversham.

[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM, an old gentleman of seventy, wearing the
riband and star of the Garter. A fine Whig type. Rather like a
portrait by Lawrence.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Good evening, Lady Chiltern! Has my good-for-
nothing young son been here?

LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] I don't think Lord Goring has arrived
yet.

MABEL CHILTERN. [Coming up to LORD CAVERSHAM.] Why do you call Lord
Goring good-for-nothing?

[MABEL CHILTERN is a perfect example of the English type of
prettiness, the apple-blossom type. She has all the fragrance and
freedom of a flower. There is ripple after ripple of sunlight in her
hair, and the little mouth, with its parted lips, is expectant, like
the mouth of a child. She has the fascinating tyranny of youth, and
the astonishing courage of innocence. To sane people she is not
reminiscent of any work of art. But she is really like a Tanagra
statuette, and would be rather annoyed if she were told so.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Because he leads such an idle life.

MABEL CHILTERN. How can you say such a thing? Why, he rides in the
Row at ten o'clock in the morning, goes to the Opera three times a
week, changes his clothes at least five times a day, and dines out
every night of the season. You don't call that leading an idle life,
do you?

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Looking at her with a kindly twinkle in his eyes.]
You are a very charming young lady!

MABEL CHILTERN. How sweet of you to say that, Lord Caversham! Do
come to us more often. You know we are always at home on Wednesdays,
and you look so well with your star!

LORD CAVERSHAM. Never go anywhere now. Sick of London Society.
Shouldn't mind being introduced to my own tailor; he always votes on
the right side. But object strongly to being sent down to dinner
with my wife's milliner. Never could stand Lady Caversham's bonnets.

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely
improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and
brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Hum! Which is Goring? Beautiful idiot, or the
other thing?

MABEL CHILTERN. [Gravely.] I have been obliged for the present to
put Lord Goring into a class quite by himself. But he is developing
charmingly!

LORD CAVERSHAM. Into what?

MABEL CHILTERN. [With a little curtsey.] I hope to let you know
very soon, Lord Caversham!

MASON. [Announcing guests.] Lady Markby. Mrs. Cheveley.

[Enter LADY MARKBY and MRS. CHEVELEY. LADY MARKBY is a pleasant,
kindly, popular woman, with gray hair e la marquise and good lace.
MRS. CHEVELEY, who accompanies her, is tall and rather slight. Lips
very thin and highly-coloured, a line of scarlet on a pallid face.
Venetian red hair, aquiline nose, and long throat. Rouge accentuates
the natural paleness of her complexion. Gray-green eyes that move
restlessly. She is in heliotrope, with diamonds. She looks rather
like an orchid, and makes great demands on one's curiosity. In all
her movements she is extremely graceful. A work of art, on the
whole, but showing the influence of too many schools.]

LADY MARKBY. Good evening, dear Gertrude! So kind of you to let me
bring my friend, Mrs. Cheveley. Two such charming women should know
each other!

LADY CHILTERN. [Advances towards MRS. CHEVELEY with a sweet smile.
Then suddenly stops, and bows rather distantly.] I think Mrs.
Cheveley and I have met before. I did not know she had married a
second time.

LADY MARKBY. [Genially.] Ah, nowadays people marry as often as they
can, don't they? It is most fashionable. [To DUCHESS OF
MARYBOROUGH.] Dear Duchess, and how is the Duke? Brain still weak,
I suppose? Well, that is only to be expected, is it not? His good
father was just the same. There is nothing like race, is there?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Playing with her fan.] But have we really met
before, Lady Chiltern? I can't remember where. I have been out of
England for so long.

LADY CHILTERN. We were at school together, Mrs. Cheveley.

MRS. CHEVELEY [Superciliously.] Indeed? I have forgotten all about
my schooldays. I have a vague impression that they were detestable.

LADY CHILTERN. [Coldly.] I am not surprised!

MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her sweetest manner.] Do you know, I am quite
looking forward to meeting your clever husband, Lady Chiltern. Since
he has been at the Foreign Office, he has been so much talked of in
Vienna. They actually succeed in spelling his name right in the
newspapers. That in itself is fame, on the continent.

LADY CHILTERN. I hardly think there will be much in common between
you and my husband, Mrs. Cheveley! [Moves away.]

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Ah! chere Madame, queue surprise! I have not
seen you since Berlin!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Not since Berlin, Vicomte. Five years ago!

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. And you are younger and more beautiful than ever.
How do you manage it?

MRS. CHEVELEY. By making it a rule only to talk to perfectly
charming people like yourself.

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Ah! you flatter me. You butter me, as they say
here.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Do they say that here? How dreadful of them!

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Yes, they have a wonderful language. It should
be more widely known.

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN enters. A man of forty, but looking somewhat
younger. Clean-shaven, with finely-cut features, dark-haired and
dark-eyed. A personality of mark. Not popular - few personalities
are. But intensely admired by the few, and deeply respected by the
many. The note of his manner is that of perfect distinction, with a
slight touch of pride. One feels that he is conscious of the success
he has made in life. A nervous temperament, with a tired look. The
firmly-chiselled mouth and chin contrast strikingly with the romantic
expression in the deep-set eyes. The variance is suggestive of an
almost complete separation of passion and intellect, as though
thought and emotion were each isolated in its own sphere through some
violence of will-power. There is nervousness in the nostrils, and in
the pale, thin, pointed hands. It would be inaccurate to call him
picturesque. Picturesqueness cannot survive the House of Commons.
But Vandyck would have liked to have painted his head.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Good evening, Lady Markby! I hope you have
brought Sir John with you?

LADY MARKBY. Oh! I have brought a much more charming person than
Sir John. Sir John's temper since he has taken seriously to politics
has become quite unbearable. Really, now that the House of Commons
is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I hope not, Lady Markby. At any rate we do our
best to waste the public time, don't we? But who is this charming
person you have been kind enough to bring to us?

LADY MARKBY. Her name is Mrs. Cheveley! One of the Dorsetshire
Cheveleys, I suppose. But I really don't know. Families are so
mixed nowadays. Indeed, as a rule, everybody turns out to be
somebody else.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley? I seem to know the name.

LADY MARKBY. She has just arrived from Vienna.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! yes. I think I know whom you mean.

LADY MARKBY. Oh! she goes everywhere there, and has such pleasant
scandals about all her friends. I really must go to Vienna next
winter. I hope there is a good chef at the Embassy.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. If there is not, the Ambassador will certainly
have to be recalled. Pray point out Mrs. Cheveley to me. I should
like to see her.

LADY MARKBY. Let me introduce you. [To MRS. CHEVELEY.] My dear,
Sir Robert Chiltern is dying to know you!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bowing.] Every one is dying to know the
brilliant Mrs. Cheveley. Our attaches at Vienna write to us about
nothing else.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you, Sir Robert. An acquaintance that begins
with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship. It
starts in the right manner. And I find that I know Lady Chiltern
already.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Really?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. She has just reminded me that we were at school
together. I remember it perfectly now. She always got the good
conduct prize. I have a distinct recollection of Lady Chiltern
always getting the good conduct prize!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Smiling.] And what prizes did you get, Mrs.
Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. My prizes came a little later on in life. I don't
think any of them were for good conduct. I forget!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am sure they were for something charming!

MRS. CHEVELEY. I don't know that women are always rewarded for being
charming. I think they are usually punished for it! Certainly, more
women grow old nowadays through the faithfulness of their admirers
than through anything else! At least that is the only way I can
account for the terribly haggard look of most of your pretty women in
London!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What an appalling philosophy that sounds! To
attempt to classify you, Mrs. Cheveley, would be an impertinence.
But may I ask, at heart, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Those
seem to be the only two fashionable religions left to us nowadays.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I'm neither. Optimism begins in a broad grin,
and Pessimism ends with blue spectacles. Besides, they are both of
them merely poses.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You prefer to be natural?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. But it is such a very difficult pose to
keep up.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What would those modern psychological
novelists, of whom we hear so much, say to such a theory as that?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Ah! the strength of women comes from the fact that
psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women . . .
merely adored.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You think science cannot grapple with the
problem of women?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Science can never grapple with the irrational. That
is why it has no future before it, in this world.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And women represent the irrational.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Well-dressed women do.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a polite bow.] I fear I could hardly
agree with you there. But do sit down. And now tell me, what makes
you leave your brilliant Vienna for our gloomy London - or perhaps
the question is indiscreet?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes
are.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Well, at any rate, may I know if it is politics
or pleasure?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Politics are my only pleasure. You see nowadays it
is not fashionable to flirt till one is forty, or to be romantic till
one is forty-five, so we poor women who are under thirty, or say we
are, have nothing open to us but politics or philanthropy. And
philanthropy seems to me to have become simply the refuge of people
who wish to annoy their fellow-creatures. I prefer politics. I
think they are more . . . becoming!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. A political life is a noble career!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. And sometimes it is a clever game, Sir
Robert. And sometimes it is a great nuisance.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Which do you find it?

MRS. CHEVELEY. I? A combination of all three. [Drops her fan.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Picks up fan.] Allow me!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But you have not told me yet what makes you
honour London so suddenly. Our season is almost over.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! I don't care about the London season! It is too
matrimonial. People are either hunting for husbands, or hiding from
them. I wanted to meet you. It is quite true. You know what a
woman's curiosity is. Almost as great as a man's! I wanted
immensely to meet you, and . . . to ask you to do something for me.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I hope it is not a little thing, Mrs. Cheveley.
I find that little things are so very difficult to do.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a moment's reflection.] No, I don't think it
is quite a little thing.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am so glad. Do tell me what it is.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Later on. [Rises.] And now may I walk through your
beautiful house? I hear your pictures are charming. Poor Baron
Arnheim - you remember the Baron? - used to tell me you had some
wonderful Corots.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With an almost imperceptible start.] Did you
know Baron Arnheim well?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Smiling.] Intimately. Did you?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. At one time.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Wonderful man, wasn't he?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] He was very remarkable, in
many ways.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I often think it such a pity he never wrote his
memoirs. They would have been most interesting.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes: he knew men and cities well, like the old
Greek.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Without the dreadful disadvantage of having a
Penelope waiting at home for him.

MASON. Lord Goring.

[Enter LORD GORING. Thirty-four, but always says he is younger. A
well-bred, expressionless face. He is clever, but would not like to
be thought so. A flawless dandy, he would be annoyed if he were
considered romantic. He plays with life, and is on perfectly good
terms with the world. He is fond of being misunderstood. It gives
him a post of vantage.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Good evening, my dear Arthur! Mrs. Cheveley,
allow me to introduce to you Lord Goring, the idlest man in London.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I have met Lord Goring before.

LORD GORING. [Bowing.] I did not think you would remember me, Mrs.
Cheveley.

MRS. CHEVELEY. My memory is under admirable control. And are you
still a bachelor?

LORD GORING. I . . . believe so.

MRS. CHEVELEY. How very romantic!

LORD GORING. Oh! I am not at all romantic. I am not old enough. I
leave romance to my seniors.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Lord Goring is the result of Boodle's Club,
Mrs. Cheveley.

MRS. CHEVELEY. He reflects every credit on the institution.

LORD GORING. May I ask are you staying in London long?

MRS. CHEVELEY. That depends partly on the weather, partly on the
cooking, and partly on Sir Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You are not going to plunge us into a European
war, I hope?

MRS. CHEVELEY. There is no danger, at present!

[She nods to LORD GORING, with a look of amusement in her eyes, and
goes out with SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. LORD GORING saunters over to
MABEL CHILTERN.]

MABEL CHILTERN. You are very late!

LORD GORING. Have you missed me?

MABEL CHILTERN. Awfully!

LORD GORING. Then I am sorry I did not stay away longer. I like
being missed.

MABEL CHILTERN. How very selfish of you!

LORD GORING. I am very selfish.

MABEL CHILTERN. You are always telling me of your bad qualities,
Lord Goring.

LORD GORING. I have only told you half of them as yet, Miss Mabel!

MABEL CHILTERN. Are the others very bad?

LORD GORING. Quite dreadful! When I think of them at night I go to
sleep at once.

MABEL CHILTERN. Well, I delight in your bad qualities. I wouldn't
have you part with one of them.

LORD GORING. How very nice of you! But then you are always nice.
By the way, I want to ask you a question, Miss Mabel. Who brought
Mrs. Cheveley here? That woman in heliotrope, who has just gone out
of the room with your brother?

MABEL CHILTERN. Oh, I think Lady Markby brought her. Why do you
ask?

LORD GORING. I haven't seen her for years, that is all.

MABEL CHILTERN. What an absurd reason!

LORD GORING. All reasons are absurd.

MABEL CHILTERN. What sort of a woman is she?

LORD GORING. Oh! a genius in the daytime and a beauty at night!

MABEL CHILTERN. I dislike her already.

LORD GORING. That shows your admirable good taste.

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. [Approaching.] Ah, the English young lady is the
dragon of good taste, is she not? Quite the dragon of good taste.

LORD GORING. So the newspapers are always telling us.

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I read all your English newspapers. I find them
so amusing.

LORD GORING. Then, my dear Nanjac, you must certainly read between
the lines.

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I should like to, but my professor objects. [To
MABEL CHILTERN.] May I have the pleasure of escorting you to the
music-room, Mademoiselle?

MABEL CHILTERN. [Looking very disappointed.] Delighted, Vicomte,
quite delighted! [Turning to LORD GORING.] Aren't you coming to the
music-room?

LORD GORING. Not if there is any music going on, Miss Mabel.

MABEL CHILTERN. [Severely.] The music is in German. You would not
understand it.

[Goes out with the VICOMTE DE NANJAC. LORD CAVERSHAM comes up to his
son.]

LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir! what are you doing here? Wasting your
life as usual! You should be in bed, sir. You keep too late hours!
I heard of you the other night at Lady Rufford's dancing till four
o'clock in the morning!

LORD GORING. Only a quarter to four, father.

LORD CAVERSHAM. Can't make out how you stand London Society. The
thing has gone to the dogs, a lot of damned nobodies talking about
nothing.

LORD GORING. I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only
thing I know anything about.

LORD CAVERSHAM. You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.

LORD GORING. What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages
like happiness.

LORD CAVERSHAM. You are heartless, sir, very heartless!

LORD GORING. I hope not, father. Good evening, Lady Basildon!

LADY BASILDON. [Arching two pretty eyebrows.] Are you here? I had
no idea you ever came to political parties!

LORD GORING. I adore political parties. They are the only place
left to us where people don't talk politics.

LADY BASILDON. I delight in talking politics. I talk them all day
long. But I can't bear listening to them. I don't know how the
unfortunate men in the House stand these long debates.

LORD GORING. By never listening.

LADY BASILDON. Really?

LORD GORING. [In his most serious manner.] Of course. You see, it
is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be
convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an
argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.

LADY BASILDON. Ah! that accounts for so much in men that I have
never understood, and so much in women that their husbands never
appreciate in them!

MRS. MARCHMONT. [With a sigh.] Our husbands never appreciate
anything in us. We have to go to others for that!

LADY BASILDON. [Emphatically.] Yes, always to others, have we not?

LORD GORING. [Smiling.] And those are the views of the two ladies
who are known to have the most admirable husbands in London.

MRS. MARCHMONT. That is exactly what we can't stand. My Reginald is
quite hopelessly faultless. He is really unendurably so, at times!
There is not the smallest element of excitement in knowing him.

LORD GORING. How terrible! Really, the thing should be more widely
known!

LADY BASILDON. Basildon is quite as bad; he is as domestic as if he
was a bachelor.

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Pressing LADY BASILDON'S hand.] My poor Olivia!
We have married perfect husbands, and we are well punished for it.

LORD GORING. I should have thought it was the husbands who were
punished.

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Drawing herself up.] Oh, dear no! They are as
happy as possible! And as for trusting us, it is tragic how much
they trust us.

LADY BASILDON. Perfectly tragic!

LORD GORING. Or comic, Lady Basildon?

LADY BASILDON. Certainly not comic, Lord Goring. How unkind of you
to suggest such a thing!

MRS. MARCHMONT. I am afraid Lord Goring is in the camp of the enemy,
as usual. I saw him talking to that Mrs. Cheveley when he came in.

LORD GORING. Handsome woman, Mrs. Cheveley!

LADY BASILDON. [Stiffly.] Please don't praise other women in our
presence. You might wait for us to do that!

LORD GORING. I did wait.

MRS. MARCHMONT. Well, we are not going to praise her. I hear she
went to the Opera on Monday night, and told Tommy Rufford at supper
that, as far as she could see, London Society was entirely made up of
dowdies and dandies.

LORD GORING. She is quite right, too. The men are all dowdies and
the women are all dandies, aren't they?

MRS. MARCHMONT. [After a pause.] Oh! do you really think that is
what Mrs. Cheveley meant?

LORD GORING. Of course. And a very sensible remark for Mrs.
Cheveley to make, too.

[Enter MABEL CHILTERN. She joins the group.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Why are you talking about Mrs. Cheveley? Everybody
is talking about Mrs. Cheveley! Lord Goring says - what did you say,
Lord Goring, about Mrs. Cheveley? Oh! I remember, that she was a
genius in the daytime and a beauty at night.

LADY BASILDON. What a horrid combination! So very unnatural!

MRS. MARCHMONT. [In her most dreamy manner.] I like looking at
geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.

LORD GORING. Ah! that is morbid of you, Mrs. Marchmont!

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Brightening to a look of real pleasure.] I am so
glad to hear you say that. Marchmont and I have been married for
seven years, and he has never once told me that I was morbid. Men
are so painfully unobservant!

LADY BASILDON. [Turning to her.] I have always said, dear Margaret,
that you were the most morbid person in London.

MRS. MARCHMONT. Ah! but you are always sympathetic, Olivia!

MABEL CHILTERN. Is it morbid to have a desire for food? I have a
great desire for food. Lord Goring, will you give me some supper?

LORD GORING. With pleasure, Miss Mabel. [Moves away with her.]

MABEL CHILTERN. How horrid you have been! You have never talked to
me the whole evening!

LORD GORING. How could I? You went away with the child-diplomatist.

MABEL CHILTERN. You might have followed us. Pursuit would have been
only polite. I don't think I like you at all this evening!

LORD GORING. I like you immensely.

MABEL CHILTERN. Well, I wish you'd show it in a more marked way!
[They go downstairs.]

MRS. MARCHMONT. Olivia, I have a curious feeling of absolute
faintness. I think I should like some supper very much. I know I
should like some supper.

LADY BASILDON. I am positively dying for supper, Margaret!

MRS. MARCHMONT. Men are so horribly selfish, they never think of
these things.

LADY BASILDON. Men are grossly material, grossly material!

[The VICOMTE DE NANJAC enters from the music-room with some other
guests. After having carefully examined all the people present, he
approaches LADY BASILDON.]

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. May I have the honour of taking you down to
supper, Comtesse?

LADY BASILDON. [Coldly.] I never take supper, thank you, Vicomte.
[The VICOMTE is about to retire. LADY BASILDON, seeing this, rises
at once and takes his arm.] But I will come down with you with
pleasure.

VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I am so fond of eating! I am very English in all
my tastes.

LADY BASILDON. You look quite English, Vicomte, quite English.

[They pass out. MR. MONTFORD, a perfectly groomed young dandy,
approaches MRS. MARCHMONT.]

MR. MONTFORD. Like some supper, Mrs. Marchmont?

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Languidly.] Thank you, Mr. Montford, I never touch
supper. [Rises hastily and takes his arm.] But I will sit beside
you, and watch you.

MR. MONTFORD. I don't know that I like being watched when I am
eating!

MRS. MARCHMONT. Then I will watch some one else.

MR. MONTFORD. I don't know that I should like that either.

MRS. MARCHMONT. [Severely.] Pray, Mr. Montford, do not make these
painful scenes of jealousy in public!

[They go downstairs with the other guests, passing SIR ROBERT
CHILTERN and MRS. CHEVELEY, who now enter.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And are you going to any of our country houses
before you leave England, Mrs. Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! I can't stand your English house-parties.
In England people actually try to be brilliant at breakfast. That is
so dreadful of them! Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
And then the family skeleton is always reading family prayers. My
stay in England really depends on you, Sir Robert. [Sits down on the
sofa.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Taking a seat beside her.] Seriously?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Quite seriously. I want to talk to you about a great
political and financial scheme, about this Argentine Canal Company,
in fact.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What a tedious, practical subject for you to
talk about, Mrs. Cheveley!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I like tedious, practical subjects. What I don't
like are tedious, practical people. There is a wide difference.
Besides, you are interested, I know, in International Canal schemes.
You were Lord Radley's secretary, weren't you, when the Government
bought the Suez Canal shares?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes. But the Suez Canal was a very great and
splendid undertaking. It gave us our direct route to India. It had
imperial value. It was necessary that we should have control. This
Argentine scheme is a commonplace Stock Exchange swindle.

MRS. CHEVELEY. A speculation, Sir Robert! A brilliant, daring
speculation.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Believe me, Mrs. Cheveley, it is a swindle.
Let us call things by their proper names. It makes matters simpler.
We have all the information about it at the Foreign Office. In fact,
I sent out a special Commission to inquire into the matter privately,
and they report that the works are hardly begun, and as for the money
already subscribed, no one seems to know what has become of it. The
whole thing is a second Panama, and with not a quarter of the chance
of success that miserable affair ever had. I hope you have not
invested in it. I am sure you are far too clever to have done that.

MRS. CHEVELEY. I have invested very largely in it.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Who could have advised you to do such a foolish
thing?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Your old friend - and mine.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Who?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Baron Arnheim.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Frowning.] Ah! yes. I remember hearing, at
the time of his death, that he had been mixed up in the whole affair.

MRS. CHEVELEY. It was his last romance. His last but one, to do him
justice.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rising.] But you have not seen my Corots yet.
They are in the music-room. Corots seem to go with music, don't
they? May I show them to you?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shaking her head.] I am not in a mood to-night for
silver twilights, or rose-pink dawns. I want to talk business.
[Motions to him with her fan to sit down again beside her.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I fear I have no advice to give you, Mrs.
Cheveley, except to interest yourself in something less dangerous.
The success of the Canal depends, of course, on the attitude of
England, and I am going to lay the report of the Commissioners before
the House to-morrow night.

MRS. CHEVELEY. That you must not do. In your own interests, Sir
Robert, to say nothing of mine, you must not do that.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking at her in wonder.] In my own
interests? My dear Mrs. Cheveley, what do you mean? [Sits down
beside her.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. Sir Robert, I will be quite frank with you. I want
you to withdraw the report that you had intended to lay before the
House, on the ground that you have reasons to believe that the
Commissioners have been prejudiced or misinformed, or something.
Then I want you to say a few words to the effect that the Government
is going to reconsider the question, and that you have reason to
believe that the Canal, if completed, will be of great international
value. You know the sort of things ministers say in cases of this
kind. A few ordinary platitudes will do. In modern life nothing
produces such an effect as a good platitude. It makes the whole
world kin. Will you do that for me?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley, you cannot be serious in making
me such a proposition!

MRS. CHEVELEY. I am quite serious.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Coldly.] Pray allow me to believe that you
are not.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Speaking with great deliberation and emphasis.] Ah!
but I am. And if you do what I ask you, I . . . will pay you very
handsomely!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Pay me!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am afraid I don't quite understand what you
mean.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Leaning back on the sofa and looking at him.] How
very disappointing! And I have come all the way from Vienna in order
that you should thoroughly understand me.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I fear I don't.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her most nonchalant manner.] My dear Sir Robert,
you are a man of the world, and you have your price, I suppose.
Everybody has nowadays. The drawback is that most people are so
dreadfully expensive. I know I am. I hope you will be more
reasonable in your terms.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rises indignantly.] If you will allow me, I
will call your carriage for you. You have lived so long abroad, Mrs.
Cheveley, that you seem to be unable to realise that you are talking
to an English gentleman.

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Detains him by touching his arm with her fan, and
keeping it there while she is talking.] I realise that I am talking
to a man who laid the foundation of his fortune by selling to a Stock
Exchange speculator a Cabinet secret.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Biting his lip.] What do you mean?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Rising and facing him.] I mean that I know the real
origin of your wealth and your career, and I have got your letter,
too.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What letter?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Contemptuously.] The letter you wrote to Baron
Arnheim, when you were Lord Radley's secretary, telling the Baron to
buy Suez Canal shares - a letter written three days before the
Government announced its own purchase.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Hoarsely.] It is not true.

MRS. CHEVELEY. You thought that letter had been destroyed. How
foolish of you! It is in my possession.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. The affair to which you allude was no more than
a speculation. The House of Commons had not yet passed the bill; it
might have been rejected.

MRS. CHEVELEY. It was a swindle, Sir Robert. Let us call things by
their proper names. It makes everything simpler. And now I am going
to sell you that letter, and the price I ask for it is your public
support of the Argentine scheme. You made your own fortune out of
one canal. You must help me and my friends to make our fortunes out
of another!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is infamous, what you propose - infamous!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! This is the game of life as we all have to
play it, Sir Robert, sooner or later!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I cannot do what you ask me.

MRS. CHEVELEY. You mean you cannot help doing it. You know you are
standing on the edge of a precipice. And it is not for you to make
terms. It is for you to accept them. Supposing you refuse -

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What then?

MRS. CHEVELEY. My dear Sir Robert, what then? You are ruined, that
is all! Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has
brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than
his neighbours. In fact, to be a bit better than one's neighbour was
considered excessively vulgar and middle-class. Nowadays, with our
modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of
purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues -
and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins - one after
the other. Not a year passes in England without somebody
disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest, to
a man - now they crush him. And yours is a very nasty scandal. You
couldn't survive it. If it were known that as a young man, secretary
to a great and important minister, you sold a Cabinet secret for a
large sum of money, and that that was the origin of your wealth and
career, you would be hounded out of public life, you would disappear
completely. And after all, Sir Robert, why should you sacrifice your
entire future rather than deal diplomatically with your enemy? For
the moment I am your enemy. I admit it! And I am much stronger than
you are. The big battalions are on my side. You have a splendid
position, but it is your splendid position that makes you so
vulnerable. You can't defend it! And I am in attack. Of course I
have not talked morality to you. You must admit in fairness that I
have spared you that. Years ago you did a clever, unscrupulous
thing; it turned out a great success. You owe to it your fortune and
position. And now you have got to pay for it. Sooner or later we
have all to pay for what we do. You have to pay now. Before I leave
you to-night, you have got to promise me to suppress your report, and
to speak in the House in favour of this scheme.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What you ask is impossible.

MRS. CHEVELEY. You must make it possible. You are going to make it
possible. Sir Robert, you know what your English newspapers are
like. Suppose that when I leave this house I drive down to some
newspaper office, and give them this scandal and the proofs of it!
Think of their loathsome joy, of the delight they would have in
dragging you down, of the mud and mire they would plunge you in.
Think of the hypocrite with his greasy smile penning his leading
article, and arranging the foulness of the public placard.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Stop! You want me to withdraw the report and
to make a short speech stating that I believe there are possibilities
in the scheme?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [Sitting down on the sofa.] Those are my terms.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [In a low voice.] I will give you any sum of
money you want.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back
your past. No man is.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I will not do what you ask me. I will not.

MRS. CHEVELEY. You have to. If you don't . . . [Rises from the
sofa.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bewildered and unnerved.] Wait a moment!
What did you propose? You said that you would give me back my
letter, didn't you?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. That is agreed. I will be in the Ladies'
Gallery to-morrow night at half-past eleven. If by that time - and
you will have had heaps of opportunity - you have made an
announcement to the House in the terms I wish, I shall hand you back
your letter with the prettiest thanks, and the best, or at any rate
the most suitable, compliment I can think of. I intend to play quite
fairly with you. One should always play fairly . . . when one has
the winning cards. The Baron taught me that . . . amongst other
things.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You must let me have time to consider your
proposal.

MRS. CHEVELEY. No; you must settle now!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Give me a week - three days!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Impossible! I have got to telegraph to Vienna to-
night.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My God! what brought you into my life?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Circumstances. [Moves towards the door.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Don't go. I consent. The report shall be
withdrawn. I will arrange for a question to be put to me on the
subject.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. I knew we should come to an amicable
agreement. I understood your nature from the first. I analysed you,
though you did not adore me. And now you can get my carriage for me,
Sir Robert. I see the people coming up from supper, and Englishmen
always get romantic after a meal, and that bores me dreadfully.
[Exit SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]

[Enter Guests, LADY CHILTERN, LADY MARKBY, LORD CAVERSHAM, LADY
BASILDON, MRS. MARCHMONT, VICOMTE DE NANJAC, MR. MONTFORD.]

LADY MARKBY. Well, dear Mrs. Cheveley, I hope you have enjoyed
yourself. Sir Robert is very entertaining, is he not?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Most entertaining! I have enjoyed my talk with him
immensely.

LADY MARKBY. He has had a very interesting and brilliant career.
And he has married a most admirable wife. Lady Chiltern is a woman
of the very highest principles, I am glad to say. I am a little too
old now, myself, to trouble about setting a good example, but I
always admire people who do. And Lady Chiltern has a very ennobling
effect on life, though her dinner-parties are rather dull sometimes.
But one can't have everything, can one? And now I must go, dear.
Shall I call for you to-morrow?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks.

LADY MARKBY. We might drive in the Park at five. Everything looks
so fresh in the Park now!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Except the people!

LADY MARKBY. Perhaps the people are a little jaded. I have often
observed that the Season as it goes on produces a kind of softening
of the brain. However, I think anything is better than high
intellectual pressure. That is the most unbecoming thing there is.
It makes the noses of the young girls so particularly large. And
there is nothing so difficult to marry as a large nose; men don't
like them. Good-night, dear! [To LADY CHILTERN.] Good-night,
Gertrude! [Goes out on LORD CAVERSHAM'S arm.]

MRS. CHEVELEY. What a charming house you have, Lady Chiltern! I
have spent a delightful evening. It has been so interesting getting
to know your husband.

LADY CHILTERN. Why did you wish to meet my husband, Mrs. Cheveley?

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I will tell you. I wanted to interest him in
this Argentine Canal scheme, of which I dare say you have heard. And
I found him most susceptible, - susceptible to reason, I mean. A
rare thing in a man. I converted him in ten minutes. He is going to
make a speech in the House to-morrow night in favour of the idea. We
must go to the Ladies' Gallery and hear him! It will be a great
occasion!

LADY CHILTERN. There must be some mistake. That scheme could never
have my husband's support.

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I assure you it's all settled. I don't regret my
tedious journey from Vienna now. It has been a great success. But,
of course, for the next twenty-four hours the whole thing is a dead
secret.

LADY CHILTERN. [Gently.] A secret? Between whom?

MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a flash of amusement in her eyes.] Between
your husband and myself.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Entering.] Your carriage is here, Mm
Cheveley!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks! Good evening, Lady Chiltern! Good-night,
Lord Goring! I am at Claridge's. Don't you think you might leave a
card?

LORD GORING. If you wish it, Mrs. Cheveley!

MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, don't be so solemn about it, or I shall be
obliged to leave a card on you. In England I suppose that would
hardly be considered EN REGLE. Abroad, we are more civilised. Will
you see me down, Sir Robert? Now that we have both the same
interests at heart we shall be great friends, I hope!

[Sails out on SIR ROBERT CHILTERN'S arm. LADY CHILTERN goes to the
top of the staircase and looks down at them as they descend. Her
expression is troubled. After a little time she is joined by some of
the guests, and passes with them into another reception-room.]

MABEL CHILTERN. What a horrid woman!

LORD GORING. You should go to bed, Miss Mabel.

MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring!

LORD GORING. My father told me to go to bed an hour ago. I don't
see why I shouldn't give you the same advice. I always pass on good
advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use
to oneself.

MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, you are always ordering me out of the
room. I think it most courageous of you. Especially as I am not
going to bed for hours. [Goes over to the sofa.] You can come and
sit down if you like, and talk about anything in the world, except
the Royal Academy, Mrs. Cheveley, or novels in Scotch dialect. They
are not improving subjects. [Catches sight of something that is
lying on the sofa half hidden by the cushion.] What is this? Some
one has dropped a diamond brooch! Quite beautiful, isn't it? [Shows
it to him.] I wish it was mine, but Gertrude won't let me wear
anything but pearls, and I am thoroughly sick of pearls. They make
one look so plain, so good and so intellectual. I wonder whom the
brooch belongs to.

LORD GORING. I wonder who dropped it.

MABEL CHILTERN. It is a beautiful brooch.

LORD GORING. It is a handsome bracelet.

MABEL CHILTERN. It isn't a bracelet. It's a brooch.

LORD GORING. It can be used as a bracelet. [Takes it from her, and,
pulling out a green letter-case, puts the ornament carefully in it,
and replaces the whole thing in his breast-pocket with the most
perfect sang froid.]

MABEL CHILTERN. What are you doing?

LORD GORING. Miss Mabel, I am going to make a rather strange request
to you.

MABEL CHILTERN. [Eagerly.] Oh, pray do! I have been waiting for it
all the evening.

LORD GORING. [Is a little taken aback, but recovers himself.] Don't
mention to anybody that I have taken charge of this brooch. Should
any one write and claim it, let me know at once.

MABEL CHILTERN. That is a strange request.

LORD GORING. Well, you see I gave this brooch to somebody once,
years ago.

MABEL CHILTERN. You did?

LORD GORING. Yes.

[LADY CHILTERN enters alone. The other guests have gone.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Then I shall certainly bid you good-night. Good-
night, Gertrude! [Exit.]

LADY CHILTERN. Good-night, dear! [To LORD GORING.] You saw whom
Lady Markby brought here to-night?

LORD GORING. Yes. It was an unpleasant surprise. What did she come
here for?

LADY CHILTERN. Apparently to try and lure Robert to uphold some
fraudulent scheme in which she is interested. The Argentine Canal,
in fact.

LORD GORING. She has mistaken her man, hasn't she?

LADY CHILTERN. She is incapable of understanding an upright nature
like my husband's!

LORD GORING. Yes. I should fancy she came to grief if she tried to
get Robert into her toils. It is extraordinary what astounding
mistakes clever women make.

LADY CHILTERN. I don't call women of that kind clever. I call them
stupid!

LORD GORING. Same thing often. Good-night, Lady Chiltern!

LADY CHILTERN. Good-night!

[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My dear Arthur, you are not going? Do stop a
little!

LORD GORING. Afraid I can't, thanks. I have promised to look in at
the Hartlocks'. I believe they have got a mauve Hungarian band that
plays mauve Hungarian music. See you soon. Good-bye!

[Exit]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. How beautiful you look to-night, Gertrude!

LADY CHILTERN. Robert, it is not true, is it? You are not going to
lend your support to this Argentine speculation? You couldn't!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Starting.] Who told you I intended to do so?

LADY CHILTERN. That woman who has just gone out, Mrs. Cheveley, as
she calls herself now. She seemed to taunt me with it. Robert, I
know this woman. You don't. We were at school together. She was
untruthful, dishonest, an evil influence on every one whose trust or
friendship she could win. I hated, I despised her. She stole
things, she was a thief. She was sent away for being a thief. Why
do you let her influence you?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, what you tell me may be true, but it
happened many years ago. It is best forgotten! Mrs. Cheveley may
have changed since then. No one should be entirely judged by their
past.

LADY CHILTERN. [Sadly.] One's past is what one is. It is the only
way by which people should be judged.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That is a hard saying, Gertrude!

LADY CHILTERN. It is a true saying, Robert. And what did she mean
by boasting that she had got you to lend your support, your name, to
a thing I have heard you describe as the most dishonest and
fraudulent scheme there has ever been in political life?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Biting his lip.] I was mistaken in the view I
took. We all may make mistakes.

LADY CHILTERN. But you told me yesterday that you had received the
report from the Commission, and that it entirely condemned the whole
thing.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Walking up and down.] I have reasons now to
believe that the Commission was prejudiced, or, at any rate,
misinformed. Besides, Gertrude, public and private life are
different things. They have different laws, and move on different
lines.

LADY CHILTERN. They should both represent man at his highest. I see
no difference between them.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Stopping.] In the present case, on a matter
of practical politics, I have changed my mind. That is all.

LADY CHILTERN. All!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sternly.] Yes!

LADY CHILTERN. Robert! Oh! it is horrible that I should have to ask
you such a question - Robert, are you telling me the whole truth?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Why do you ask me such a question?

LADY CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Why do you not answer it?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sitting down.] Gertrude, truth is a very
complex thing, and politics is a very complex business. There are
wheels within wheels. One may be under certain obligations to people
that one must pay. Sooner or later in political life one has to
compromise. Every one does.

LADY CHILTERN. Compromise? Robert, why do you talk so differently
to-night from the way I have always heard you talk? Why are you
changed?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am not changed. But circumstances alter
things.

LADY CHILTERN. Circumstances should never alter principles!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But if I told you -

LADY CHILTERN. What?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That it was necessary, vitally necessary?

LADY CHILTERN. It can never be necessary to do what is not
honourable. Or if it be necessary, then what is it that I have
loved! But it is not, Robert; tell me it is not. Why should it be?
What gain would you get ? Money? We have no need of that! And
money that comes from a tainted source is a degradation. Power? But
power is nothing in itself. It is power to do good that is fine -
that, and that only. What is it, then? Robert, tell me why you are
going to do this dishonourable thing!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, you have no right to use that word.
I told you it was a question of rational compromise. It is no more
than that.

LADY CHILTERN. Robert, that is all very well for other men, for men
who treat life simply as a sordid speculation; but not for you,
Robert, not for you. You are different. All your life you have
stood apart from others. You have never let the world soil you. To
the world, as to myself, you have been an ideal always. Oh! be that
ideal still. That great inheritance throw not away - that tower of
ivory do not destroy. Robert, men can love what is beneath them -
things unworthy, stained, dishonoured. We women worship when we
love; and when we lose our worship, we lose everything. Oh! don't
kill my love for you, don't kill that!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude!

LADY CHILTERN. I know that there are men with horrible secrets in
their lives - men who have done some shameful thing, and who in some
critical moment have to pay for it, by doing some other act of shame
- oh! don't tell me you are such as they are! Robert, is there in
your life any secret dishonour or disgrace? Tell me, tell me at
once, that -

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That what?

LADY CHILTERN. [Speaking very slowly.] That our lives may drift
apart.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Drift apart?

LADY CHILTERN. That they may be entirely separate. It would be
better for us both.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, there is nothing in my past life that
you might not know.

LADY CHILTERN. I was sure of it, Robert, I was sure of it. But why
did you say those dreadful things, things so unlike your real self?
Don't let us ever talk about the subject again. You will write,
won't you, to Mrs. Cheveley, and tell her that you cannot support
this scandalous scheme of hers? If you have given her any promise
you must take it back, that is all!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Must I write and tell her that?

LADY CHILTERN. Surely, Robert! What else is there to do?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I might see her personally. It would be
better.

LADY CHILTERN. You must never see her again, Robert. She is not a
woman you should ever speak to. She is not worthy to talk to a man
like you. No; you must write to her at once, now, this moment, and
let your letter show her that your decision is quite irrevocable!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Write this moment!

LADY CHILTERN. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But it is so late. It is close on twelve.

LADY CHILTERN. That makes no matter. She must know at once that she
has been mistaken in you - and that you are not a man to do anything
base or underhand or dishonourable. Write here, Robert. Write that
you decline to support this scheme of hers, as you hold it to be a
dishonest scheme. Yes - write the word dishonest. She knows what
that word means. [SIR ROBERT CHILTERN sits down and writes a letter.
His wife takes it up and reads it.] Yes; that will do. [Rings
bell.] And now the envelope. [He writes the envelope slowly. Enter
MASON.] Have this letter sent at once to Claridge's Hotel. There is
no answer. [Exit MASON. LADY CHILTERN kneels down beside her
husband, and puts her arms around him.] Robert, love gives one an
instinct to things. I feel to-night that I have saved you from
something that might have been a danger to you, from something that
might have made men honour you less than they do. I don't think you
realise sufficiently, Robert, that you have brought into the
political life of our time a nobler atmosphere, a finer attitude
towards life, a freer air of purer aims and higher ideals - I know
it, and for that I love you, Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh, love me always, Gertrude, love me always!

LADY CHILTERN. I will love you always, because you will always be
worthy of love. We needs must love the highest when we see it!
[Kisses him and rises and goes out.]

[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN walks up and down for a moment; then sits down
and buries his face in his hands. The Servant enters and begins
pulling out the lights. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN looks up.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Put out the lights, Mason, put out the lights!

[The Servant puts out the lights. The room becomes almost dark. The
only light there is comes from the great chandelier that hangs over
the staircase and illumines the tapestry of the Triumph of Love.]

ACT DROP

SECOND ACT

SCENE

Morning-room at Sir Robert Chiltern's house.

[LORD GORING, dressed in the height of fashion, is lounging in an
armchair. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN is standing in front of the fireplace.
He is evidently in a state of great mental excitement and distress.
As the scene progresses he paces nervously up and down the room.]

LORD GORING. My dear Robert, it's a very awkward business, very
awkward indeed. You should have told your wife the whole thing.
Secrets from other people's wives are a necessary luxury in modern
life. So, at least, I am always told at the club by people who are
bald enough to know better. But no man should have a secret from his
own wife. She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful
instinct about things. They can discover everything except the
obvious.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, I couldn't tell my wife. When could I
have told her? Not last night. It would have made a life-long
separation between us, and I would have lost the love of the one
woman in the world I worship, of the only woman who has ever stirred
love within me. Last night it would have been quite impossible. She
would have turned from me in horror . . . in horror and in contempt.

LORD GORING. Is Lady Chiltern as perfect as all that?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes; my wife is as perfect as all that.

LORD GORING. [Taking off his left-hand glove.] What a pity! I beg
your pardon, my dear fellow, I didn't quite mean that. But if what
you tell me is true, I should like to have a serious talk about life
with Lady Chiltern.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It would be quite useless.

LORD GORING. May I try?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes; but nothing could make her alter her
views.

LORD GORING. Well, at the worst it would simply be a psychological
experiment.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. All such experiments are terribly dangerous.

LORD GORING. Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn't
so, life wouldn't be worth living. . . . Well, I am bound to say that
I think you should have told her years ago.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When? When we were engaged? Do you think she
would have married me if she had known that the origin of my fortune
is such as it is, the basis of my career such as it is, and that I
had done a thing that I suppose most men would call shameful and
dishonourable?

LORD GORING. [Slowly.] Yes; most men would call it ugly names.
There is no doubt of that.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bitterly.] Men who every day do something of
the same kind themselves. Men who, each one of them, have worse
secrets in their own lives.

LORD GORING. That is the reason they are so pleased to find out
other people's secrets. It distracts public attention from their
own.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And, after all, whom did I wrong by what I did?
No one.

LORD GORING. [Looking at him steadily.] Except yourself, Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Of course I had private
information about a certain transaction contemplated by the
Government of the day, and I acted on it. Private information is
practically the source of every large modern fortune.

LORD GORING. [Tapping his boot with his cane.] And public scandal
invariably the result.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Pacing up and down the room.] Arthur, do you
think that what I did nearly eighteen years ago should be brought up
against me now? Do you think it fair that a man's whole career
should be ruined for a fault done in one's boyhood almost? I was
twenty-two at the time, and I had the double misfortune of being
well-born and poor, two unforgiveable things nowadays. Is it fair
that the folly, the sin of one's youth, if men choose to call it a
sin, should wreck a life like mine, should place me in the pillory,
should shatter all that I have worked for, all that I have built up.
Is it fair, Arthur?

LORD GORING. Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good
thing for most of us that it is not.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Every man of ambition has to fight his century
with its own weapons. What this century worships is wealth. The God
of this century is wealth. To succeed one must have wealth. At all
costs one must have wealth.

LORD GORING. You underrate yourself, Robert. Believe me, without
wealth you could have succeeded just as well.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When I was old, perhaps. When I had lost my
passion for power, or could not use it. When I was tired, worn out,
disappointed. I wanted my success when I was young. Youth is the
time for success. I couldn't wait.

LORD GORING. Well, you certainly have had your success while you are
still young. No one in our day has had such a brilliant success.
Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the age of forty - that's good
enough for any one, I should think.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And if it is all taken away from me now? If I
lose everything over a horrible scandal? If I am hounded from public
life?

LORD GORING. Robert, how could you have sold yourself for money?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Excitedly.] I did not sell myself for money.
I bought success at a great price. That is all.

LORD GORING. [Gravely.] Yes; you certainly paid a great price for
it. But what first made you think of doing such a thing?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Baron Arnheim.

LORD GORING. Damned scoundrel!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; he was a man of a most subtle and refined
intellect. A man of culture, charm, and distinction. One of the
most intellectual men I ever met.

LORD GORING. Ah! I prefer a gentlemanly fool any day. There is more
to be said for stupidity than people imagine. Personally I have a
great admiration for stupidity. It is a sort of fellow-feeling, I
suppose. But how did he do it? Tell me the whole thing.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Throws himself into an armchair by the
writing-table.] One night after dinner at Lord Radley's the Baron
began talking about success in modern life as something that one
could reduce to an absolutely definite science. With that
wonderfully fascinating quiet voice of his he expounded to us the
most terrible of all philosophies, the philosophy of power, preached
to us the most marvellous of all gospels, the gospel of gold. I
think he saw the effect he had produced on me, for some days
afterwards he wrote and asked me to come and see him. He was living
then in Park Lane, in the house Lord Woolcomb has now. I remember so
well how, with a strange smile on his pale, curved lips, he led me
through his wonderful picture gallery, showed me his tapestries, his
enamels, his jewels, his carved ivories, made me wonder at the
strange loveliness of the luxury in which he lived; and then told me
that luxury was nothing but a background, a painted scene in a play,
and that power, power over other men, power over the world, was the
one thing worth having, the one supreme pleasure worth knowing, the
one joy one never tired of, and that in our century only the rich
possessed it.

LORD GORING. [With great deliberation.] A thoroughly shallow creed.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rising.] I didn't think so then. I don't
think so now. Wealth has given me enormous power. It gave me at the
very outset of my life freedom, and freedom is everything. You have
never been poor, and never known what ambition is. You cannot
understand what a wonderful chance the Baron gave me. Such a chance
as few men get.

LORD GORING. Fortunately for them, if one is to judge by results.
But tell me definitely, how did the Baron finally persuade you to -
well, to do what you did?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When I was going away he said to me that if I
ever could give him any private information of real value he would
make me a very rich man. I was dazed at the prospect he held out to
me, and my ambition and my desire for power were at that time
boundless. Six weeks later certain private documents passed through
my hands.

LORD GORING. [Keeping his eyes steadily fixed on the carpet.] State
documents?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes. [LORD GORING sighs, then passes his hand
across his forehead and looks up.]

LORD GORING. I had no idea that you, of all men in the world, could
have been so weak, Robert, as to yield to such a temptation as Baron
Arnheim held out to you.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Weak? Oh, I am sick of hearing that phrase.
Sick of using it about others. Weak? Do you really think, Arthur,
that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there
are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and
courage, to yield to. To stake all one's life on a single moment, to
risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure,
I care not - there is no weakness in that. There is a horrible, a
terrible courage. I had that courage. I sat down the same afternoon
and wrote Baron Arnheim the letter this woman now holds. He made
three-quarters of a million over the transaction

LORD GORING. And you?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I received from the Baron 110,000 pounds.

LORD GORING. You were worth more, Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; that money gave me exactly what I wanted,
power over others. I went into the House immediately. The Baron
advised me in finance from time to time. Before five years I had
almost trebled my fortune. Since then everything that I have touched
has turned out a success. In all things connected with money I have
had a luck so extraordinary that sometimes it has made me almost
afraid. I remember having read somewhere, in some strange book, that
when the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.

LORD GORING. But tell me, Robert, did you never suffer any regret
for what you had done?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No. I felt that I had fought the century with
its own weapons, and won.

LORD GORING. [Sadly.] You thought you had won.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I thought so. [After a long pause.] Arthur,
do you despise me for what I have told you?

LORD GORING. [With deep feeling in his voice.] I am very sorry for
you, Robert, very sorry indeed.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I don't say that I suffered any remorse. I
didn't. Not remorse in the ordinary, rather silly sense of the word.
But I have paid conscience money many times. I had a wild hope that
I might disarm destiny. The sum Baron Arnheim gave me I have
distributed twice over in public charities since then.

LORD GORING. [Looking up.] In public charities? Dear me! what a
lot of harm you must have done, Robert!

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh, don't say that, Arthur; don't talk like
that!

LORD GORING. Never mind what I say, Robert! I am always saying what
I shouldn't say. In fact, I usually say what I really think. A
great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.
As regards this dreadful business, I will help you in whatever way I
can. Of course you know that.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you, Arthur, thank you. But what is to
be done? What can be done?

LORD GORING. [Leaning back with his hands in his pockets.] Well,
the English can't stand a man who is always saying he is in the
right, but they are very fond of a man who admits that he has been in
the wrong. It is one of the best things in them. However, in your
case, Robert, a confession would not do. The money, if you will
allow me to say so, is . . . awkward. Besides, if you did make a
clean breast of the whole affair, you would never be able to talk
morality again. And in England a man who can't talk morality twice a
week to a large, popular, immoral audience is quite over as a serious
politician. There would be nothing left for him as a profession
except Botany or the Church. A confession would be of no use. It
would ruin you.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It would ruin me. Arthur, the only thing for
me to do now is to fight the thing out.

LORD GORING. [Rising from his chair.] I was waiting for you to say
that, Robert. It is the only thing to do now. And you must begin by
telling your wife the whole story.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That I will not do.

LORD GORING. Robert, believe me, you are wrong.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I couldn't do it. It would kill her love for
me. And now about this woman, this Mrs. Cheveley. How can I defend
myself against her? You knew her before, Arthur, apparently.

LORD GORING. Yes.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Did you know her well?

LORD GORING. [Arranging his necktie.] So little that I got engaged
to be married to her once, when I was staying at the Tenbys'. The
affair lasted for three days . . . nearly.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Why was it broken off?

LORD GORING. [Airily.] Oh, I forget. At least, it makes no matter.
By the way, have you tried her with money? She used to be
confoundedly fond of money.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I offered her any sum she wanted. She refused.

LORD GORING. Then the marvellous gospel of gold breaks down
sometimes. The rich can't do everything, after all.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Not everything. I suppose you are right.
Arthur, I feel that public disgrace is in store for me. I feel
certain of it. I never knew what terror was before. I know it now.
It is as if a hand of ice were laid upon one's heart. It is as if
one's heart were beating itself to death in some empty hollow.

LORD GORING. [Striking the table.] Robert, you must fight her. You
must fight her.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But how?

LORD GORING. I can't tell you how at present. I have not the
smallest idea. But every one has some weak point. There is some
flaw in each one of us. [Strolls to the fireplace and looks at
himself in the glass.] My father tells me that even I have faults.
Perhaps I have. I don't know.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. In defending myself against Mrs. Cheveley, I
have a right to use any weapon I can find, have I not?

LORD GORING. [Still looking in the glass.] In your place I don't
think I should have the smallest scruple in doing so. She is
thoroughly well able to take care of herself.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sits down at the table and takes a pen in his
hand.] Well, I shall send a cipher telegram to the Embassy at
Vienna, to inquire if there is anything known against her. There may
be some secret scandal she might be afraid of.

LORD GORING. [Settling his buttonhole.] Oh, I should fancy Mrs.
Cheveley is one of those very modern women of our time who find a new
scandal as becoming as a new bonnet, and air them both in the Park
every afternoon at five-thirty. I am sure she adores scandals, and
that the sorrow of her life at present is that she can't manage to
have enough of them.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Writing.] Why do you say that?

LORD GORING. [Turning round.] Well, she wore far too much rouge
last night, and not quite enough clothes. That is always a sign of
despair in a woman.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Striking a bell.] But it is worth while my
wiring to Vienna, is it not?

LORD GORING. It is always worth while asking a question, though it
is not always worth while answering one.

[Enter MASON.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Is Mr. Trafford in his room?

MASON. Yes, Sir Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Puts what he has written into an envelope,
which he then carefully closes.] Tell him to have this sent off in
cipher at once. There must not be a moment's delay.

MASON. Yes, Sir Robert.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! just give that back to me again.

[Writes something on the envelope. MASON then goes out with the
letter.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. She must have had some curious hold over Baron
Arnheim. I wonder what it was.

LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I wonder.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I will fight her to the death, as long as my
wife knows nothing.

LORD GORING. [Strongly.] Oh, fight in any case - in any case.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a gesture of despair.] If my wife found
out, there would be little left to fight for. Well, as soon as I
hear from Vienna, I shall let you know the result. It is a chance,
just a chance, but I believe in it. And as I fought the age with its
own weapons, I will fight her with her weapons. It is only fair, and
she looks like a woman with a past, doesn't she?

LORD GORING. Most pretty women do. But there is a fashion in pasts
just as there is a fashion in frocks. Perhaps Mrs. Cheveley's past
is merely a slightly DECOLLETE one, and they are excessively popular
nowadays. Besides, my dear Robert, I should not build too high hopes
on frightening Mrs. Cheveley. I should not fancy Mrs. Cheveley is a
woman who would be easily frightened. She has survived all her
creditors, and she shows wonderful presence of mind.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! I live on hopes now. I clutch at every
chance. I feel like a man on a ship that is sinking. The water is
round my feet, and the very air is bitter with storm. Hush! I hear
my wife's voice.

[Enter LADY CHILTERN in walking dress.]

LADY CHILTERN. Good afternoon, Lord Goring!

LORD GORING. Good afternoon, Lady Chiltern! Have you been in the
Park?

LADY CHILTERN. No; I have just come from the Woman's Liberal
Association, where, by the way, Robert, your name was received with
loud applause, and now I have come in to have my tea. [To LORD
GORING.] You will wait and have some tea, won't you?

LORD GORING. I'll wait for a short time, thanks.

LADY CHILTERN. I will be back in a moment. I am only going to take
my hat off.

LORD GORING. [In his most earnest manner.] Oh! please don't. It is
so pretty. One of the prettiest hats I ever saw. I hope the Woman's
Liberal Association received it with loud applause.

LADY CHILTERN. [With a smile.] We have much more important work to
do than look at each other's bonnets, Lord Goring.

LORD GORING. Really? What sort of work?

LADY CHILTERN. Oh! dull, useful, delightful things, Factory Acts,
Female Inspectors, the Eight Hours' Bill, the Parliamentary
Franchise. . . . Everything, in fact, that you would find thoroughly
uninteresting.

LORD GORING. And never bonnets?

LADY CHILTERN. [With mock indignation.] Never bonnets, never!

[LADY CHILTERN goes out through the door leading to her boudoir.]

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Takes LORD GORING'S hand.] You have been a
good friend to me, Arthur, a thoroughly good friend.

LORD GORING. I don't know that I have been able to do much for you,
Robert, as yet. In fact, I have not been able to do anything for
you, as far as I can see. I am thoroughly disappointed with myself.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You have enabled me to tell you the truth.
That is something. The truth has always stifled me.

LORD GORING. Ah! the truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as
possible! Bad habit, by the way. Makes one very unpopular at the
club . . . with the older members. They call it being conceited.
Perhaps it is.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I would to God that I had been able to tell the
truth . . . to live the truth. Ah! that is the great thing in life,
to live the truth. [Sighs, and goes towards the door.] I'll see you
soon again, Arthur, shan't I?

LORD GORING. Certainly. Whenever you like. I'm going to look in at
the Bachelors' Ball to-night, unless I find something better to do.
But I'll come round to-morrow morning. If you should want me to-
night by any chance, send round a note to Curzon Street.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you.

[As he reaches the door, LADY CHILTERN enters from her boudoir.]

LADY CHILTERN. You are not going, Robert?

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I have some letters to write, dear.

LADY CHILTERN. [Going to him.] You work too hard, Robert. You seem
never to think of yourself, and you are looking so tired.

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is nothing, dear, nothing.

[He kisses her and goes out.]

LADY CHILTERN. [To LORD GORING.] Do sit down. I am so glad you
have called. I want to talk to you about . . . well, not about
bonnets, or the Woman's Liberal Association. You take far too much
interest in the first subject, and not nearly enough in the second.

LORD GORING. You want to talk to me about Mrs. Cheveley?

LADY CHILTERN. Yes. You have guessed it. After you left last night
I found out that what she had said was really true. Of course I made
Robert write her a letter at once, withdrawing his promise.

LORD GORING. So he gave me to understand.

LADY CHILTERN. To have kept it would have been the first stain on a
career that has been stainless always. Robert must be above
reproach. He is not like other men. He cannot afford to do what
other men do. [She looks at LORD GORING, who remains silent.] Don't
you agree with me? You are Robert's greatest friend. You are our
greatest friend, Lord Goring. No one, except myself, knows Robert
better than you do. He has no secrets from me, and I don't think he
has any from you.

LORD GORING. He certainly has no secrets from me. At least I don't
think so.

LADY CHILTERN. Then am I not right in my estimate of him? I know I
am right. But speak to me frankly.

LORD GORING. [Looking straight at her.] Quite frankly?

LADY CHILTERN. Surely. You have nothing to conceal, have you?

LORD GORING. Nothing. But, my dear Lady Chiltern, I think, if you
will allow me to say so, that in practical life -

LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] Of which you know so little, Lord Goring
-

LORD GORING. Of which I know nothing by experience, though I know
something by observation. I think that in practical life there is
something about success, actual success, that is a little
unscrupulous, something about ambition that is unscrupulous always.
Once a man has set his heart and soul on getting to a certain point,
if he has to climb the crag, he climbs the crag; if he has to walk in
the mire -

LADY CHILTERN. Well?

LORD GORING. He walks in the mire. Of course I am only talking
generally about life.

LADY CHILTERN. [Gravely.] I hope so. Why do you look at me so
strangely, Lord Goring?

LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, I have sometimes thought that . . .
perhaps you are a little hard in some of your views on life. I think
that . . . often you don't make sufficient allowances. In every
nature there are elements of weakness, or worse than weakness.
Supposing, for instance, that - that any public man, my father, or
Lord Merton, or Robert, say, had, years ago, written some foolish
letter to some one . . .

LADY CHILTERN. What do you mean by a foolish letter?

LORD GORING. A letter gravely compromising one's position. I am
only putting an imaginary case.

LADY CHILTERN. Robert is as incapable of doing a foolish thing as he
is of doing a wrong thing.

LORD GORING. [After a long pause.] Nobody is incapable of doing a
foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.

LADY CHILTERN. Are you a Pessimist? What will the other dandies
say? They will all have to go into mourning.

LORD GORING. [Rising.] No, Lady Chiltern, I am not a Pessimist.
Indeed I am not sure that I quite know what Pessimism really means.
All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity,
cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German
philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may
be the explanation of the next. And if you are ever in trouble, Lady
Chiltern, trust me absolutely, and I will help you in every way I
can. If you ever want me, come to me for my assistance, and you
shall have it. Come at once to me.

LADY CHILTERN. [Looking at him in surprise.] Lord Goring, you are
talking quite seriously. I don't think I ever heard you talk
seriously before.

LORD GORING. [Laughing.] You must excuse me, Lady Chiltern. It
won't occur again, if I can help it.

LADY CHILTERN. But I like you to be serious.

[Enter MABEL CHILTERN, in the most ravishing frock.]

MABEL CHILTERN. Dear Gertrude, don't say such a dreadful thing to
Lord Goring. Seriousness would be very unbecoming to him. Good
afternoon Lord Goring! Pray be as trivial as you can.

LORD GORING. I should like to, Miss Mabel, but I am afraid I am . .
. a little out of practice this morning; and besides, I have to be
going now.

MABEL CHILTERN. Just when I have come in! What dreadful manners you
have! I am sure you were very badly brought up.

LORD GORING. I was.

MABEL CHILTERN. I wish I had brought you up!

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