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Title: A Woman of No Importance
Author: Wilde, Oscar
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1919 Methuen & Co. Ltd. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org



                                A WOMAN OF
                              NO IMPORTANCE


                                  A PLAY

                                    BY
                               OSCAR WILDE

                                * * * * *

                           METHUEN & CO., LTD.
                           36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
                                  LONDON

                             _Eighth Edition_

                                * * * * *

_First Printed_                                                 _1894_
_First Issued by Methuen and Co._ (_Limited    _February_       _1908_
Editions on Handmade Paper and Japanese
Vellum_)
_Third Edition_                                _September_      _1909_
_Fourth Edition_                               _May_            _1910_
_Fifth Edition_                                _December_       _1911_
_Sixth Edition_                                _March_          _1913_
_Seventh Edition_ (_Cheap Form_)               _October_        _1916_
_Eighth Edition_                                       _1919_

_The dramatic rights of_ ‘_A Woman of No Importance_’ _belong to Sir
Herbert Beerbohm Tree and to Robert Ross_, _executor and administrator of
Oscar Wilde’s estate_.

                                * * * * *

                                    TO
                                  GLADYS
                             COUNTESS DE GREY

                          [MARCHIONESS OF RIPON]

                                * * * * *



THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY


LORD ILLINGWORTH

SIR JOHN PONTEFRACT

LORD ALFRED RUFFORD

MR. KELVIL, M.P.

THE VEN. ARCHDEACON DAUBENY, D.D.

GERALD ARBUTHNOT

FARQUHAR, Butler

FRANCIS, Footman

                                * * * * *

LADY HUNSTANTON

LADY CAROLINE PONTEFRACT

LADY STUTFIELD

MRS. ALLONBY

MISS HESTER WORSLEY

ALICE, Maid

MRS. ARBUTHNOT



THE SCENES OF THE PLAY


ACT I.  _The Terrace at Hunstanton Chase_.

ACT II.  _The Drawing-room at Hunstanton Chase_.

ACT III.  _The Hall at Hunstanton Chase_.

ACT IV.  _Sitting-room in Mrs. Arbuthnot’s House at Wrockley_.

TIME:  _The Present_.

PLACE:  _The Shires_.

      _The action of the play takes place within twenty-four hours_.



LONDON: HAYMARKET THEATRE


               _Lessee and Manager_: _Mr. H Beerbohm Tree_
                           _April_ 19_th_, 1893

LORD ILLINGWORTH                    _Mr. Tree_.
SIR JOHN PONTEFRACT                 _Mr. E. Holman Clark_.
LORD ALFRED RUFFORD                 _Mr. Ernest Lawford_.
MR. KELVIL, M.P.                    _Mr. Charles Allan_.
THE VEN. ARCHDEACON DAUBENY, D.D.   _Mr. Kemble_.
GERALD ARBUTHNOT                    _Mr. Terry_.
FARQUHAR (_Butler_)                 _Mr. Hay_.
FRANCIS (_Footman_)                 _Mr. Montague_.
LADY HUNSTANTON                     _Miss Rose Leclercq_.
LADY CAROLINE PONTEFRACT            _Miss Le Thière_.
LADY STUTFIELD                      _Miss Blanche Horlock_.
MRS. ALLONBY                        _Mrs. Tree_.
MISS HESTER WORSLEY                 _Miss Julia Neilson_.
ALICE (_Maid_)                      _Miss Kelly_.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT                      _Mrs. Bernard-Beere_.

FIRST ACT


                                  SCENE

              _Lawn in front of the terrace at Hunstanton_.

[SIR JOHN _and_ LADY CAROLINE PONTEFRACT, MISS WORSLEY, _on chairs under
large yew tree_.]

LADY CAROLINE.  I believe this is the first English country house you
have stayed at, Miss Worsley?

HESTER.  Yes, Lady Caroline.

LADY CAROLINE.  You have no country houses, I am told, in America?

HESTER.  We have not many.

LADY CAROLINE.  Have you any country?  What we should call country?

HESTER.  [_Smiling_.]  We have the largest country in the world, Lady
Caroline.  They used to tell us at school that some of our states are as
big as France and England put together.

LADY CAROLINE.  Ah! you must find it very draughty, I should fancy.
[_To_ SIR JOHN.]  John, you should have your muffler.  What is the use of
my always knitting mufflers for you if you won’t wear them?

SIR JOHN.  I am quite warm, Caroline, I assure you.

LADY CAROLINE.  I think not, John.  Well, you couldn’t come to a more
charming place than this, Miss Worsley, though the house is excessively
damp, quite unpardonably damp, and dear Lady Hunstanton is sometimes a
little lax about the people she asks down here.  [_To_ SIR JOHN.]  Jane
mixes too much.  Lord Illingworth, of course, is a man of high
distinction.  It is a privilege to meet him.  And that member of
Parliament, Mr. Kettle—

SIR JOHN.  Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.

LADY CAROLINE.  He must be quite respectable.  One has never heard his
name before in the whole course of one’s life, which speaks volumes for a
man, nowadays.  But Mrs. Allonby is hardly a very suitable person.

HESTER.  I dislike Mrs. Allonby.  I dislike her more than I can say.

LADY CAROLINE.  I am not sure, Miss Worsley, that foreigners like
yourself should cultivate likes or dislikes about the people they are
invited to meet.  Mrs. Allonby is very well born.  She is a niece of Lord
Brancaster’s.  It is said, of course, that she ran away twice before she
was married.  But you know how unfair people often are.  I myself don’t
believe she ran away more than once.

HESTER.  Mr. Arbuthnot is very charming.

LADY CAROLINE.  Ah, yes! the young man who has a post in a bank.  Lady
Hunstanton is most kind in asking him here, and Lord Illingworth seems to
have taken quite a fancy to him.  I am not sure, however, that Jane is
right in taking him out of his position.  In my young days, Miss Worsley,
one never met any one in society who worked for their living.  It was not
considered the thing.

HESTER.  In America those are the people we respect most.

LADY CAROLINE.  I have no doubt of it.

HESTER.  Mr. Arbuthnot has a beautiful nature!  He is so simple, so
sincere.  He has one of the most beautiful natures I have ever come
across.  It is a privilege to meet _him_.

LADY CAROLINE.  It is not customary in England, Miss Worsley, for a young
lady to speak with such enthusiasm of any person of the opposite sex.
English women conceal their feelings till after they are married.  They
show them then.

HESTER.  Do you, in England, allow no friendship to exist between a young
man and a young girl?

[_Enter_ LADY HUNSTANTON, _followed by Footman with shawls and a
cushion_.]

LADY CAROLINE.  We think it very inadvisable.  Jane, I was just saying
what a pleasant party you have asked us to meet.  You have a wonderful
power of selection.  It is quite a gift.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Dear Caroline, how kind of you!  I think we all do fit
in very nicely together.  And I hope our charming American visitor will
carry back pleasant recollections of our English country life.  [_To
Footman_.]  The cushion, there, Francis.  And my shawl.  The Shetland.
Get the Shetland.  [_Exit Footman for shawl_.]

[_Enter_ GERALD ARBUTHNOT.]

GERALD.  Lady Hunstanton, I have such good news to tell you.  Lord
Illingworth has just offered to make me his secretary.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  His secretary?  That is good news indeed, Gerald.  It
means a very brilliant future in store for you.  Your dear mother will be
delighted.  I really must try and induce her to come up here to-night.
Do you think she would, Gerald?  I know how difficult it is to get her to
go anywhere.

GERALD.  Oh!  I am sure she would, Lady Hunstanton, if she knew Lord
Illingworth had made me such an offer.

[_Enter Footman with shawl_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I will write and tell her about it, and ask her to come
up and meet him.  [_To Footman_.]  Just wait, Francis.  [_Writes
letter_.]

LADY CAROLINE.  That is a very wonderful opening for so young a man as
you are, Mr. Arbuthnot.

GERALD.  It is indeed, Lady Caroline.  I trust I shall be able to show
myself worthy of it.

LADY CAROLINE.  I trust so.

GERALD.  [_To_ HESTER.]  _You_ have not congratulated me yet, Miss
Worsley.

HESTER.  Are you very pleased about it?

GERALD.  Of course I am.  It means everything to me—things that were out
of the reach of hope before may be within hope’s reach now.

HESTER.  Nothing should be out of the reach of hope.  Life is a hope.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I fancy, Caroline, that Diplomacy is what Lord
Illingworth is aiming at.  I heard that he was offered Vienna.  But that
may not be true.

LADY CAROLINE.  I don’t think that England should be represented abroad
by an unmarried man, Jane.  It might lead to complications.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You are too nervous, Caroline.  Believe me, you are too
nervous.  Besides, Lord Illingworth may marry any day.  I was in hopes he
would have married lady Kelso.  But I believe he said her family was too
large.  Or was it her feet?  I forget which.  I regret it very much.  She
was made to be an ambassador’s wife.

LADY CAROLINE.  She certainly has a wonderful faculty of remembering
people’s names, and forgetting their faces.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Well, that is very natural, Caroline, is it not?  [_To
Footman_.]  Tell Henry to wait for an answer.  I have written a line to
your dear mother, Gerald, to tell her your good news, and to say she
really must come to dinner.

[_Exit Footman_.]

GERALD.  That is awfully kind of you, Lady Hunstanton.  [_To_ HESTER.]
Will you come for a stroll, Miss Worsley?

HESTER.  With pleasure.  [_Exit with_ GERALD.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I am very much gratified at Gerald Arbuthnot’s good
fortune.  He is quite a _protégé_ of mine.  And I am particularly pleased
that Lord Illingworth should have made the offer of his own accord
without my suggesting anything.  Nobody likes to be asked favours.  I
remember poor Charlotte Pagden making herself quite unpopular one season,
because she had a French governess she wanted to recommend to every one.

LADY CAROLINE.  I saw the governess, Jane.  Lady Pagden sent her to me.
It was before Eleanor came out.  She was far too good-looking to be in
any respectable household.  I don’t wonder Lady Pagden was so anxious to
get rid of her.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, that explains it.

LADY CAROLINE.  John, the grass is too damp for you.  You had better go
and put on your overshoes at once.

SIR JOHN.  I am quite comfortable, Caroline, I assure you.

LADY CAROLINE.  You must allow me to be the best judge of that, John.
Pray do as I tell you.

[SIR JOHN _gets up and goes off_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You spoil him, Caroline, you do indeed!

[_Enter_ MRS. ALLONBY _and_ LADY STUTFIELD.]

[_To_ MRS. ALLONBY.]  Well, dear, I hope you like the park.  It is said
to be well timbered.

MRS. ALLONBY.  The trees are wonderful, Lady Hunstanton.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Quite, quite wonderful.

MRS. ALLONBY.  But somehow, I feel sure that if I lived in the country
for six months, I should become so unsophisticated that no one would take
the slightest notice of me.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I assure you, dear, that the country has not that
effect at all.  Why, it was from Melthorpe, which is only two miles from
here, that Lady Belton eloped with Lord Fethersdale.  I remember the
occurrence perfectly.  Poor Lord Belton died three days afterwards of
joy, or gout.  I forget which.  We had a large party staying here at the
time, so we were all very much interested in the whole affair.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I think to elope is cowardly.  It’s running away from
danger.  And danger has become so rare in modern life.

LADY CAROLINE.  As far as I can make out, the young women of the present
day seem to make it the sole object of their lives to be always playing
with fire.

MRS. ALLONBY.  The one advantage of playing with fire, Lady Caroline, is
that one never gets even singed.  It is the people who don’t know how to
play with it who get burned up.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes; I see that.  It is very, very helpful.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I don’t know how the world would get on with such a
theory as that, dear Mrs. Allonby.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Ah!  The world was made for men and not for women.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh, don’t say that, Lady Stutfield.  We have a much better
time than they have.  There are far more things forbidden to us than are
forbidden to them.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes; that is quite, quite true.  I had not thought of
that.

[_Enter_ SIR JOHN _and_ MR. KELVIL.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Well, Mr. Kelvil, have you got through your work?

KELVIL.  I have finished my writing for the day, Lady Hunstanton.  It has
been an arduous task.  The demands on the time of a public man are very
heavy nowadays, very heavy indeed.  And I don’t think they meet with
adequate recognition.

LADY CAROLINE.  John, have you got your overshoes on?

SIR JOHN.  Yes, my love.

LADY CAROLINE.  I think you had better come over here, John.  It is more
sheltered.

SIR JOHN.  I am quite comfortable, Caroline.

LADY CAROLINE.  I think not, John.  You had better sit beside me.  [SIR
JOHN _rises and goes across_.]

LADY STUTFIELD.  And what have you been writing about this morning, Mr.
Kelvil?

KELVIL.  On the usual subject, Lady Stutfield.  On Purity.

LADY STUTFIELD.  That must be such a very, very interesting thing to
write about.

KELVIL.  It is the one subject of really national importance, nowadays,
Lady Stutfield.  I purpose addressing my constituents on the question
before Parliament meets.  I find that the poorer classes of this country
display a marked desire for a higher ethical standard.

LADY STUTFIELD.  How quite, quite nice of them.

LADY CAROLINE.  Are you in favour of women taking part in politics, Mr.
Kettle?

SIR JOHN.  Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.

KELVIL.  The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing in
our political life, Lady Caroline.  Women are always on the side of
morality, public and private.

LADY STUTFIELD.  It is so very, very gratifying to hear you say that.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, yes!—the moral qualities in women—that is the
important thing.  I am afraid, Caroline, that dear Lord Illingworth
doesn’t value the moral qualities in women as much as he should.

[_Enter_ LORD ILLINGWORTH.]

LADY STUTFIELD.  The world says that Lord Illingworth is very, very
wicked.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  But what world says that, Lady Stutfield?  It must be
the next world.  This world and I are on excellent terms.  [_Sits down
beside_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

LADY STUTFIELD.  Every one _I_ know says you are very, very wicked.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about,
nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely
and entirely true.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Dear Lord Illingworth is quite hopeless, Lady
Stutfield.  I have given up trying to reform him.  It would take a Public
Company with a Board of Directors and a paid Secretary to do that.  But
you have the secretary already, Lord Illingworth, haven’t you?  Gerald
Arbuthnot has told us of his good fortune; it is really most kind of you.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Oh, don’t say that, Lady Hunstanton.  Kind is a
dreadful word.  I took a great fancy to young Arbuthnot the moment I met
him, and he’ll be of considerable use to me in something I am foolish
enough to think of doing.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  He is an admirable young man.  And his mother is one of
my dearest friends.  He has just gone for a walk with our pretty
American.  She is very pretty, is she not?

LADY CAROLINE.  Far too pretty.  These American girls carry off all the
good matches.  Why can’t they stay in their own country?  They are always
telling us it is the Paradise of women.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is, Lady Caroline.  That is why, like Eve, they are
so extremely anxious to get out of it.

LADY CAROLINE.  Who are Miss Worsley’s parents?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  American women are wonderfully clever in concealing
their parents.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear Lord Illingworth, what do you mean?  Miss
Worsley, Caroline, is an orphan.  Her father was a very wealthy
millionaire or philanthropist, or both, I believe, who entertained my son
quite hospitably, when he visited Boston.  I don’t know how he made his
money, originally.

KELVIL.  I fancy in American dry goods.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  What are American dry goods?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  American novels.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  How very singular! . . . Well, from whatever source her
large fortune came, I have a great esteem for Miss Worsley.  She dresses
exceedingly well.  All Americans do dress well.  They get their clothes
in Paris.

MRS. ALLONBY.  They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die
they go to Paris.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Indeed?  And when bad Americans die, where do they go
to?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Oh, they go to America.

KELVIL.  I am afraid you don’t appreciate America, Lord Illingworth.  It
is a very remarkable country, especially considering its youth.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  The youth of America is their oldest tradition.  It
has been going on now for three hundred years.  To hear them talk one
would imagine they were in their first childhood.  As far as civilisation
goes they are in their second.

KELVIL.  There is undoubtedly a great deal of corruption in American
politics.  I suppose you allude to that?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I wonder.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Politics are in a sad way everywhere, I am told.  They
certainly are in England.  Dear Mr. Cardew is ruining the country.  I
wonder Mrs. Cardew allows him.  I am sure, Lord Illingworth, you don’t
think that uneducated people should be allowed to have votes?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I think they are the only people who should.

KELVIL.  Do you take no side then in modern politics, Lord Illingworth?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  One should never take sides in anything, Mr. Kelvil.
Taking sides is the beginning of sincerity, and earnestness follows
shortly afterwards, and the human being becomes a bore.  However, the
House of Commons really does very little harm.  You can’t make people
good by Act of Parliament,—that is something.

KELVIL.  You cannot deny that the House of Commons has always shown great
sympathy with the sufferings of the poor.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  That is its special vice.  That is the special vice of
the age.  One should sympathise with the joy, the beauty, the colour of
life.  The less said about life’s sores the better, Mr. Kelvil.

KELVIL.  Still our East End is a very important problem.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Quite so.  It is the problem of slavery.  And we are
trying to solve it by amusing the slaves.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Certainly, a great deal may be done by means of cheap
entertainments, as you say, Lord Illingworth.  Dear Dr. Daubeny, our
rector here, provides, with the assistance of his curates, really
admirable recreations for the poor during the winter.  And much good may
be done by means of a magic lantern, or a missionary, or some popular
amusement of that kind.

LADY CAROLINE.  I am not at all in favour of amusements for the poor,
Jane.  Blankets and coals are sufficient.  There is too much love of
pleasure amongst the upper classes as it is.  Health is what we want in
modern life.  The tone is not healthy, not healthy at all.

KELVIL.  You are quite right, Lady Caroline.

LADY CAROLINE.  I believe I am usually right.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Horrid word ‘health.’

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Silliest word in our language, and one knows so well
the popular idea of health.  The English country gentleman galloping
after a fox—the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.

KELVIL.  May I ask, Lord Illingworth, if you regard the House of Lords as
a better institution than the House of Commons?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  A much better institution, of course.  We in the House
of Lords are never in touch with public opinion.  That makes us a
civilised body.

KELVIL.  Are you serious in putting forward such a view?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Quite serious, Mr. Kelvil.  [_To_ MRS. ALLONBY.]
Vulgar habit that is people have nowadays of asking one, after one has
given them an idea, whether one is serious or not.  Nothing is serious
except passion.  The intellect is not a serious thing, and never has
been.  It is an instrument on which one plays, that is all.  The only
serious form of intellect I know is the British intellect.  And on the
British intellect the illiterates play the drum.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  What are you saying, Lord Illingworth, about the drum?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I was merely talking to Mrs. Allonby about the leading
articles in the London newspapers.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  But do you believe all that is written in the
newspapers?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I do.  Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.
[_Rises with_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Are you going, Mrs. Allonby?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Just as far as the conservatory.  Lord Illingworth told me
this morning that there was an orchid there as beautiful as the seven
deadly sins.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear, I hope there is nothing of the kind.  I will
certainly speak to the gardener.

[_Exit_ MRS. ALLONBY _and_ LORD ILLINGWORTH.]

LADY CAROLINE.  Remarkable type, Mrs. Allonby.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  She lets her clever tongue run away with her sometimes.

LADY CAROLINE.  Is that the only thing, Jane, Mrs. Allonby allows to run
away with her?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I hope so, Caroline, I am sure.

[_Enter_ LORD ALFRED.]

Dear Lord Alfred, do join us.  [LORD ALFRED _sits down beside_ LADY
STUTFIELD.]

LADY CAROLINE.  You believe good of every one, Jane.  It is a great
fault.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Do you really, really think, Lady Caroline, that one
should believe evil of every one?

LADY CAROLINE.  I think it is much safer to do so, Lady Stutfield.
Until, of course, people are found out to be good.  But that requires a
great deal of investigation nowadays.

LADY STUTFIELD.  But there is so much unkind scandal in modern life.

LADY CAROLINE.  Lord Illingworth remarked to me last night at dinner that
the basis of every scandal is an absolutely immoral certainty.

KELVIL.  Lord Illingworth is, of course, a very brilliant man, but he
seems to me to be lacking in that fine faith in the nobility and purity
of life which is so important in this century.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes, quite, quite important, is it not?

KELVIL.  He gives me the impression of a man who does not appreciate the
beauty of our English home-life.  I would say that he was tainted with
foreign ideas on the subject.

LADY STUTFIELD.  There is nothing, nothing like the beauty of home-life,
is there?

KELVIL.  It is the mainstay of our moral system in England, Lady
Stutfield.  Without it we would become like our neighbours.

LADY STUTFIELD.  That would be so, so sad, would it not?

KELVIL.  I am afraid, too, that Lord Illingworth regards woman simply as
a toy.  Now, I have never regarded woman as a toy.  Woman is the
intellectual helpmeet of man in public as in private life.  Without her
we should forget the true ideals.  [_Sits down beside_ LADY STUTFIELD.]

LADY STUTFIELD.  I am so very, very glad to hear you say that.

LADY CAROLINE.  You a married man, Mr. Kettle?

SIR JOHN.  Kelvil, dear, Kelvil.

KELVIL.  I am married, Lady Caroline.

LADY CAROLINE.  Family?

KELVIL.  Yes.

LADY CAROLINE.  How many?

KELVIL.  Eight.

[LADY STUTFIELD _turns her attention to_ LORD ALFRED.]

LADY CAROLINE.  Mrs. Kettle and the children are, I suppose, at the
seaside?  [SIR JOHN _shrugs his shoulders_.]

KELVIL.  My wife is at the seaside with the children, Lady Caroline.

LADY CAROLINE.  You will join them later on, no doubt?

KELVIL.  If my public engagements permit me.

LADY CAROLINE.  Your public life must be a great source of gratification
to Mrs. Kettle.

SIR JOHN.  Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.

LADY STUTFIELD.  [_To_ LORD ALFRED.]  How very, very charming those
gold-tipped cigarettes of yours are, Lord Alfred.

LORD ALFRED.  They are awfully expensive.  I can only afford them when
I’m in debt.

LADY STUTFIELD.  It must be terribly, terribly distressing to be in debt.

LORD ALFRED.  One must have some occupation nowadays.  If I hadn’t my
debts I shouldn’t have anything to think about.  All the chaps I know are
in debt.

LADY STUTFIELD.  But don’t the people to whom you owe the money give you
a great, great deal of annoyance?

[_Enter Footman_.]

LORD ALFRED.  Oh, no, they write; I don’t.

LADY STUTFIELD.  How very, very strange.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, here is a letter, Caroline, from dear Mrs.
Arbuthnot.  She won’t dine.  I am so sorry.  But she will come in the
evening.  I am very pleased indeed.  She is one of the sweetest of women.
Writes a beautiful hand, too, so large, so firm.  [_Hands letter to_ LADY
CAROLINE.]

LADY CAROLINE.  [_Looking at it_.]  A little lacking in femininity, Jane.
Femininity is the quality I admire most in women.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_Taking back letter and leaving it on table_.]  Oh!
she is very feminine, Caroline, and so good too.  You should hear what
the Archdeacon says of her.  He regards her as his right hand in the
parish.  [_Footman speaks to her_.]  In the Yellow Drawing-room.  Shall
we all go in?  Lady Stutfield, shall we go in to tea?

LADY STUTFIELD.  With pleasure, Lady Hunstanton.  [_They rise and proceed
to go off_.  SIR JOHN offers to carry LADY STUTFIELD’S cloak.]

LADY CAROLINE.  John!  If you would allow your nephew to look after Lady
Stutfield’s cloak, you might help me with my workbasket.

[_Enter_ LORD ILLINGWORTH _and_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

SIR JOHN.  Certainly, my love.  [_Exeunt_.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  Curious thing, plain women are always jealous of their
husbands, beautiful women never are!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Beautiful women never have time.  They are always so
occupied in being jealous of other people’s husbands.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I should have thought Lady Caroline would have grown tired
of conjugal anxiety by this time!  Sir John is her fourth!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  So much marriage is certainly not becoming.  Twenty
years of romance make a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of
marriage make her something like a public building.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Twenty years of romance!  Is there such a thing?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Not in our day.  Women have become too brilliant.
Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Or the want of it in the man.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You are quite right.  In a Temple every one should be
serious, except the thing that is worshipped.

MRS. ALLONBY.  And that should be man?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Women kneel so gracefully; men don’t.

MRS. ALLONBY.  You are thinking of Lady Stutfield!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I assure you I have not thought of Lady Stutfield for
the last quarter of an hour.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Is she such a mystery?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  She is more than a mystery—she is a mood.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Moods don’t last.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is their chief charm.

[_Enter_ HESTER _and_ GERALD.]

GERALD.  Lord Illingworth, every one has been congratulating me, Lady
Hunstanton and Lady Caroline, and . . . every one.  I hope I shall make a
good secretary.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You will be the pattern secretary, Gerald.  [_Talks to
him_.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  You enjoy country life, Miss Worsley?

HESTER.  Very much indeed.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Don’t find yourself longing for a London dinner-party?

HESTER.  I dislike London dinner-parties.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I adore them.  The clever people never listen, and the
stupid people never talk.

HESTER.  I think the stupid people talk a great deal.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, I never listen!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  My dear boy, if I didn’t like you I wouldn’t have made
you the offer.  It is because I like you so much that I want to have you
with me.

[_Exit_ HESTER _with_ GERALD.]

Charming fellow, Gerald Arbuthnot!

MRS. ALLONBY.  He is very nice; very nice indeed.  But I can’t stand the
American young lady.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Why?

MRS. ALLONBY.  She told me yesterday, and in quite a loud voice too, that
she was only eighteen.  It was most annoying.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  One should never trust a woman who tells one her real
age.  A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything.

MRS. ALLONBY.  She is a Puritan besides—

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Ah, that is inexcusable.  I don’t mind plain women
being Puritans.  It is the only excuse they have for being plain.  But
she is decidedly pretty.  I admire her immensely.  [_Looks steadfastly
at_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  What a thoroughly bad man you must be!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What do you call a bad man?

MRS. ALLONBY.  The sort of man who admires innocence.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  And a bad woman?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh! the sort of woman a man never gets tired of.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You are severe—on yourself.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Define us as a sex.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Sphinxes without secrets.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Does that include the Puritan women?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Do you know, I don’t believe in the existence of
Puritan women?  I don’t think there is a woman in the world who would not
be a little flattered if one made love to her.  It is that which makes
women so irresistibly adorable.

MRS. ALLONBY.  You think there is no woman in the world who would object
to being kissed?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Very few.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Miss Worsley would not let you kiss her.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Are you sure?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Quite.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What do you think she’d do if I kissed her?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Either marry you, or strike you across the face with her
glove.  What would you do if she struck you across the face with her
glove?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Fall in love with her, probably.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Then it is lucky you are not going to kiss her!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Is that a challenge?

MRS. ALLONBY.  It is an arrow shot into the air.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Don’t you know that I always succeed in whatever I
try?

MRS. ALLONBY.  I am sorry to hear it.  We women adore failures.  They
lean on us.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You worship successes.  You cling to them.

MRS. ALLONBY.  We are the laurels to hide their baldness.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  And they need you always, except at the moment of
triumph.

MRS. ALLONBY.  They are uninteresting then.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  How tantalising you are!  [_A pause_.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  Lord Illingworth, there is one thing I shall always like
you for.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Only one thing?  And I have so many bad qualities.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, don’t be too conceited about them.  You may lose them
as you grow old.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I never intend to grow old.  The soul is born old but
grows young.  That is the comedy of life.

MRS. ALLONBY.  And the body is born young and grows old.  That is life’s
tragedy.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Its comedy also, sometimes.  But what is the
mysterious reason why you will always like me?

MRS. ALLONBY.  It is that you have never made love to me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I have never done anything else.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Really?  I have not noticed it.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  How fortunate!  It might have been a tragedy for both
of us.

MRS. ALLONBY.  We should each have survived.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and
live down anything except a good reputation.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Have you tried a good reputation?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is one of the many annoyances to which I have never
been subjected.

MRS. ALLONBY.  It may come.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Why do you threaten me?

MRS. ALLONBY.  I will tell you when you have kissed the Puritan.

[_Enter Footman_.]

FRANCIS.  Tea is served in the Yellow Drawing-room, my lord.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Tell her ladyship we are coming in.

FRANCIS.  Yes, my lord.

[_Exit_.]

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Shall we go in to tea?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Do you like such simple pleasures?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I adore simple pleasures.  They are the last refuge of
the complex.  But, if you wish, let us stay here.  Yes, let us stay here.
The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden.

MRS. ALLONBY.  It ends with Revelations.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You fence divinely.  But the button has come of your
foil.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I have still the mask.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It makes your eyes lovelier.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Thank you.  Come.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  [_Sees_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT’S _letter on table_, _and takes
it up and looks at envelope_.]  What a curious handwriting!  It reminds
me of the handwriting of a woman I used to know years ago.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Who?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Oh! no one.  No one in particular.  A woman of no
importance.  [_Throws letter down_, _and passes up the steps of the
terrace with_ MRS. ALLONBY.  _They smile at each other_.]

                                ACT DROP.



SECOND ACT


                                  SCENE

 _Drawing-room at Hunstanton_, _after dinner_, _lamps lit_.  _Door_ L.C.
                               _Door_ R.C.

[_Ladies seated on sofas_.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  What a comfort it is to have got rid of the men for a
little!

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes; men persecute us dreadfully, don’t they?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Persecute us?  I wish they did.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear!

MRS. ALLONBY.  The annoying thing is that the wretches can be perfectly
happy without us.  That is why I think it is every woman’s duty never to
leave them alone for a single moment, except during this short breathing
space after dinner; without which I believe we poor women would be
absolutely worn to shadows.

[_Enter Servants with coffee_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Worn to shadows, dear?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Yes, Lady Hunstanton.  It is such a strain keeping men up
to the mark.  They are always trying to escape from us.

LADY STUTFIELD.  It seems to me that it is we who are always trying to
escape from them.  Men are so very, very heartless.  They know their
power and use it.

LADY CAROLINE.  [_Takes coffee from Servant_.]  What stuff and nonsense
all this about men is!  The thing to do is to keep men in their proper
place.

MRS. ALLONBY.  But what is their proper place, Lady Caroline?

LADY CAROLINE.  Looking after their wives, Mrs. Allonby.

MRS. ALLONBY.  [_Takes coffee from Servant_.]  Really?  And if they’re
not married?

LADY CAROLINE.  If they are not married, they should be looking after a
wife.  It’s perfectly scandalous the amount of bachelors who are going
about society.  There should be a law passed to compel them all to marry
within twelve months.

LADY STUTFIELD.  [_Refuses coffee_.]  But if they’re in love with some
one who, perhaps, is tied to another?

LADY CAROLINE.  In that case, Lady Stutfield, they should be married off
in a week to some plain respectable girl, in order to teach them not to
meddle with other people’s property.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I don’t think that we should ever be spoken of as other
people’s property.  All men are married women’s property.  That is the
only true definition of what married women’s property really is.  But we
don’t belong to any one.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Oh, I am so very, very glad to hear you say so.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  But do you really think, dear Caroline, that
legislation would improve matters in any way?  I am told that, nowadays,
all the married men live like bachelors, and all the bachelors like
married men.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I certainly never know one from the other.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Oh, I think one can always know at once whether a man
has home claims upon his life or not.  I have noticed a very, very sad
expression in the eyes of so many married men.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, all that I have noticed is that they are horribly
tedious when they are good husbands, and abominably conceited when they
are not.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Well, I suppose the type of husband has completely
changed since my young days, but I’m bound to state that poor dear
Hunstanton was the most delightful of creatures, and as good as gold.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, my husband is a sort of promissory note; I’m tired of
meeting him.

LADY CAROLINE.  But you renew him from time to time, don’t you?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh no, Lady Caroline.  I have only had one husband as yet.
I suppose you look upon me as quite an amateur.

LADY CAROLINE.  With your views on life I wonder you married at all.

MRS. ALLONBY.  So do I.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear child, I believe you are really very happy in
your married life, but that you like to hide your happiness from others.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I assure you I was horribly deceived in Ernest.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Oh, I hope not, dear.  I knew his mother quite well.
She was a Stratton, Caroline, one of Lord Crowland’s daughters.

LADY CAROLINE.  Victoria Stratton?  I remember her perfectly.  A silly
fair-haired woman with no chin.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, Ernest has a chin.  He has a very strong chin, a
square chin.  Ernest’s chin is far too square.

LADY STUTFIELD.  But do you really think a man’s chin can be too square?
I think a man should look very, very strong, and that his chin should be
quite, quite square.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Then you should certainly know Ernest, Lady Stutfield.  It
is only fair to tell you beforehand he has got no conversation at all.

LADY STUTFIELD.  I adore silent men.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh, Ernest isn’t silent.  He talks the whole time.  But he
has got no conversation.  What he talks about I don’t know.  I haven’t
listened to him for years.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Have you never forgiven him then?  How sad that seems!
But all life is very, very sad, is it not?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Life, Lady Stutfield, is simply a _mauvais quart d’heure_
made up of exquisite moments.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes, there are moments, certainly.  But was it something
very, very wrong that Mr. Allonby did?  Did he become angry with you, and
say anything that was unkind or true?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh dear, no.  Ernest is invariably calm.  That is one of
the reasons he always gets on my nerves.  Nothing is so aggravating as
calmness.  There is something positively brutal about the good temper of
most modern men.  I wonder we women stand it as well as we do.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes; men’s good temper shows they are not so sensitive
as we are, not so finely strung.  It makes a great barrier often between
husband and wife, does it not?  But I would so much like to know what was
the wrong thing Mr. Allonby did.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Well, I will tell you, if you solemnly promise to tell
everybody else.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Thank you, thank you.  I will make a point of repeating
it.

MRS. ALLONBY.  When Ernest and I were engaged, he swore to me positively
on his knees that he had never loved any one before in the whole course
of his life.  I was very young at the time, so I didn’t believe him, I
needn’t tell you.  Unfortunately, however, I made no enquiries of any
kind till after I had been actually married four or five months.  I found
out then that what he had told me was perfectly true.  And that sort of
thing makes a man so absolutely uninteresting.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear!

MRS. ALLONBY.  Men always want to be a woman’s first love.  That is their
clumsy vanity.  We women have a more subtle instinct about things.  What
we like is to be a man’s last romance.

LADY STUTFIELD.  I see what you mean.  It’s very, very beautiful.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear child, you don’t mean to tell me that you won’t
forgive your husband because he never loved any one else?  Did you ever
hear such a thing, Caroline?  I am quite surprised.

LADY CAROLINE.  Oh, women have become so highly educated, Jane, that
nothing should surprise us nowadays, except happy marriages.  They
apparently are getting remarkably rare.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh, they’re quite out of date.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Except amongst the middle classes, I have been told.

MRS. ALLONBY.  How like the middle classes!

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes—is it not?—very, very like them.

LADY CAROLINE.  If what you tell us about the middle classes is true,
Lady Stutfield, it redounds greatly to their credit.  It is much to be
regretted that in our rank of life the wife should be so persistently
frivolous, under the impression apparently that it is the proper thing to
be.  It is to that I attribute the unhappiness of so many marriages we
all know of in society.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Do you know, Lady Caroline, I don’t think the frivolity of
the wife has ever anything to do with it. More marriages are ruined
nowadays by the common sense of the husband than by anything else.  How
can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating
her as if she were a perfectly rational being?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear!

MRS. ALLONBY.  Man, poor, awkward, reliable, necessary man belongs to a
sex that has been rational for millions and millions of years.  He can’t
help himself.  It is in his race.  The History of Woman is very
different.  We have always been picturesque protests against the mere
existence of common sense.  We saw its dangers from the first.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes, the common sense of husbands is certainly most,
most trying.  Do tell me your conception of the Ideal Husband.  I think
it would be so very, very helpful.

MRS. ALLONBY.  The Ideal Husband?  There couldn’t be such a thing.  The
institution is wrong.

LADY STUTFIELD.  The Ideal Man, then, in his relations to _us_.

LADY CAROLINE.  He would probably be extremely realistic.

MRS. CAROLINE.  The Ideal Man!  Oh, the Ideal Man should talk to us as if
we were goddesses, and treat us as if we were children.  He should refuse
all our serious requests, and gratify every one of our whims.  He should
encourage us to have caprices, and forbid us to have missions.  He should
always say much more than he means, and always mean much more than he
says.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  But how could he do both, dear?

MRS. ALLONBY.  He should never run down other pretty women.  That would
show he had no taste, or make one suspect that he had too much.  No; he
should be nice about them all, but say that somehow they don’t attract
him.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Yes, that is always very, very pleasant to hear about
other women.

MRS. ALLONBY.  If we ask him a question about anything, he should give us
an answer all about ourselves.  He should invariably praise us for
whatever qualities he knows we haven’t got.  But he should be pitiless,
quite pitiless, in reproaching us for the virtues that we have never
dreamed of possessing.  He should never believe that we know the use of
useful things.  That would be unforgiveable.  But he should shower on us
everything we don’t want.

LADY CAROLINE.  As far as I can see, he is to do nothing but pay bills
and compliments.

MRS. ALLONBY.  He should persistently compromise us in public, and treat
us with absolute respect when we are alone.  And yet he should be always
ready to have a perfectly terrible scene, whenever we want one, and to
become miserable, absolutely miserable, at a moment’s notice, and to
overwhelm us with just reproaches in less than twenty minutes, and to be
positively violent at the end of half an hour, and to leave us for ever
at a quarter to eight, when we have to go and dress for dinner.  And
when, after that, one has seen him for really the last time, and he has
refused to take back the little things he has given one, and promised
never to communicate with one again, or to write one any foolish letters,
he should be perfectly broken-hearted, and telegraph to one all day long,
and send one little notes every half-hour by a private hansom, and dine
quite alone at the club, so that every one should know how unhappy he
was.  And after a whole dreadful week, during which one has gone about
everywhere with one’s husband, just to show how absolutely lonely one
was, he may be given a third last parting, in the evening, and then, if
his conduct has been quite irreproachable, and one has behaved really
badly to him, he should be allowed to admit that he has been entirely in
the wrong, and when he has admitted that, it becomes a woman’s duty to
forgive, and one can do it all over again from the beginning, with
variations.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  How clever you are, my dear!  You never mean a single
word you say.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Thank you, thank you.  It has been quite, quite
entrancing.  I must try and remember it all.  There are such a number of
details that are so very, very important.

LADY CAROLINE.  But you have not told us yet what the reward of the Ideal
Man is to be.

MRS. ALLONBY.  His reward?  Oh, infinite expectation.  That is quite
enough for him.

LADY STUTFIELD.  But men are so terribly, terribly exacting, are they
not?

MRS. ALLONBY.  That makes no matter.  One should never surrender.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Not even to the Ideal Man?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Certainly not to him.  Unless, of course, one wants to
grow tired of him.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Oh! . . . yes.  I see that.  It is very, very helpful.
Do you think, Mrs. Allonby, I shall ever meet the Ideal Man?  Or are
there more than one?

MRS. ALLONBY.  There are just four in London, Lady Stutfield.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Oh, my dear!

MRS. ALLONBY.  [_Going over to her_.]  What has happened?  Do tell me.

LADY HUNSTANTON [_in a low voice_]  I had completely forgotten that the
American young lady has been in the room all the time.  I am afraid some
of this clever talk may have shocked her a little.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, that will do her so much good!

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Let us hope she didn’t understand much.  I think I had
better go over and talk to her.  [_Rises and goes across to_ HESTER
WORSLEY.]  Well, dear Miss Worsley. [_Sitting down beside her_.]  How
quiet you have been in your nice little corner all this time!  I suppose
you have been reading a book?  There are so many books here in the
library.

HESTER.  No, I have been listening to the conversation.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You mustn’t believe everything that was said, you know,
dear.

HESTER.  I didn’t believe any of it

LADY HUNSTANTON.  That is quite right, dear.

HESTER.  [_Continuing_.]  I couldn’t believe that any women could really
hold such views of life as I have heard to-night from some of your
guests.  [_An awkward pause_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I hear you have such pleasant society in America.
Quite like our own in places, my son wrote to me.

HESTER.  There are cliques in America as elsewhere, Lady Hunstanton.  But
true American society consists simply of all the good women and good men
we have in our country.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  What a sensible system, and I dare say quite pleasant
too.  I am afraid in England we have too many artificial social barriers.
We don’t see as much as we should of the middle and lower classes.

HESTER.  In America we have no lower classes.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Really?  What a very strange arrangement!

MRS. ALLONBY.  What is that dreadful girl talking about?

LADY STUTFIELD.  She is painfully natural, is she not?

LADY CAROLINE.  There are a great many things you haven’t got in America,
I am told, Miss Worsley.  They say you have no ruins, and no curiosities.

MRS. ALLONBY.  [_To_ LADY STUTFIELD.]  What nonsense!  They have their
mothers and their manners.

HESTER.  The English aristocracy supply us with our curiosities, Lady
Caroline.  They are sent over to us every summer, regularly, in the
steamers, and propose to us the day after they land.  As for ruins, we
are trying to build up something that will last longer than brick or
stone.  [_Gets up to take her fan from table_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  What is that, dear?  Ah, yes, an iron Exhibition, is it
not, at that place that has the curious name?

HESTER.  [_Standing by table_.]  We are trying to build up life, Lady
Hunstanton, on a better, truer, purer basis than life rests on here.
This sounds strange to you all, no doubt.  How could it sound other than
strange?  You rich people in England, you don’t know how you are living.
How could you know?  You shut out from your society the gentle and the
good.  You laugh at the simple and the pure.  Living, as you all do, on
others and by them, you sneer at self-sacrifice, and if you throw bread
to the poor, it is merely to keep them quiet for a season.  With all your
pomp and wealth and art you don’t know how to live—you don’t even know
that.  You love the beauty that you can see and touch and handle, the
beauty that you can destroy, and do destroy, but of the unseen beauty of
life, of the unseen beauty of a higher life, you know nothing.  You have
lost life’s secret.  Oh, your English society seems to me shallow,
selfish, foolish.  It has blinded its eyes, and stopped its ears.  It
lies like a leper in purple.  It sits like a dead thing smeared with
gold.  It is all wrong, all wrong.

LADY STUTFIELD.  I don’t think one should know of these things.  It is
not very, very nice, is it?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear Miss Worsley, I thought you liked English
society so much.  You were such a success in it.  And you were so much
admired by the best people.  I quite forget what Lord Henry Weston said
of you—but it was most complimentary, and you know what an authority he
is on beauty.

HESTER.  Lord Henry Weston!  I remember him, Lady Hunstanton.  A man with
a hideous smile and a hideous past.  He is asked everywhere.  No
dinner-party is complete without him.  What of those whose ruin is due to
him?  They are outcasts.  They are nameless.  If you met them in the
street you would turn your head away.  I don’t complain of their
punishment.  Let all women who have sinned be punished.

[MRS. ARBUTHNOT _enters from terrace behind in a cloak with a lace veil
over her head_.  _She hears the last words and starts_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear young lady!

HESTER.  It is right that they should be punished, but don’t let them be
the only ones to suffer.  If a man and woman have sinned, let them both
go forth into the desert to love or loathe each other there.  Let them
both be branded.  Set a mark, if you wish, on each, but don’t punish the
one and let the other go free.  Don’t have one law for men and another
for women.  You are unjust to women in England.  And till you count what
is a shame in a woman to be an infamy in a man, you will always be
unjust, and Right, that pillar of fire, and Wrong, that pillar of cloud,
will be made dim to your eyes, or be not seen at all, or if seen, not
regarded.

LADY CAROLINE.  Might I, dear Miss Worsley, as you are standing up, ask
you for my cotton that is just behind you?  Thank you.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear Mrs. Arbuthnot!  I am so pleased you have come
up.  But I didn’t hear you announced.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh, I came straight in from the terrace, Lady Hunstanton,
just as I was.  You didn’t tell me you had a party.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Not a party.  Only a few guests who are staying in the
house, and whom you must know.  Allow me.  [_Tries to help her_.  _Rings
bell_.]  Caroline, this is Mrs. Arbuthnot, one of my sweetest friends.
Lady Caroline Pontefract, Lady Stutfield, Mrs. Allonby, and my young
American friend, Miss Worsley, who has just been telling us all how
wicked we are.

HESTER.  I am afraid you think I spoke too strongly, Lady Hunstanton.
But there are some things in England—

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear young lady, there was a great deal of truth, I
dare say, in what you said, and you looked very pretty while you said it,
which is much more important, Lord Illingworth would tell us.  The only
point where I thought you were a little hard was about Lady Caroline’s
brother, about poor Lord Henry.  He is really such good company.

[_Enter Footman_.]

Take Mrs. Arbuthnot’s things.

[_Exit Footman with wraps_.]

HESTER.  Lady Caroline, I had no idea it was your brother.  I am sorry
for the pain I must have caused you—I—

LADY CAROLINE.  My dear Miss Worsley, the only part of your little
speech, if I may so term it, with which I thoroughly agreed, was the part
about my brother.  Nothing that you could possibly say could be too bad
for him.  I regard Henry as infamous, absolutely infamous.  But I am
bound to state, as you were remarking, Jane, that he is excellent
company, and he has one of the best cooks in London, and after a good
dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.

LADY HUNSTANTON [_to_ MISS WORSLEY]  Now, do come, dear, and make friends
with Mrs. Arbuthnot.  She is one of the good, sweet, simple people you
told us we never admitted into society.  I am sorry to say Mrs. Arbuthnot
comes very rarely to me.  But that is not my fault.

MRS. ALLONBY.  What a bore it is the men staying so long after dinner!  I
expect they are saying the most dreadful things about us.

LADY STUTFIELD.  Do you really think so?

MRS. ALLONBY.  I was sure of it.

LADY STUTFIELD.  How very, very horrid of them!  Shall we go onto the
terrace?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh, anything to get away from the dowagers and the
dowdies.  [_Rises and goes with_ LADY STUTFIELD _to door_ L.C.]  We are
only going to look at the stars, Lady Hunstanton.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You will find a great many, dear, a great many.  But
don’t catch cold.  [_To_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]  We shall all miss Gerald so
much, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  But has Lord Illingworth really offered to make Gerald
his secretary?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Oh, yes!  He has been most charming about it.  He has
the highest possible opinion of your boy.  You don’t know Lord
Illingworth, I believe, dear.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I have never met him.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You know him by name, no doubt?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I am afraid I don’t.  I live so much out of the world,
and see so few people.  I remember hearing years ago of an old Lord
Illingworth who lived in Yorkshire, I think.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, yes.  That would be the last Earl but one.  He was
a very curious man.  He wanted to marry beneath him.  Or wouldn’t, I
believe.  There was some scandal about it.  The present Lord Illingworth
is quite different.  He is very distinguished.  He does—well, he does
nothing, which I am afraid our pretty American visitor here thinks very
wrong of anybody, and I don’t know that he cares much for the subjects in
which you are so interested, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot.  Do you think,
Caroline, that Lord Illingworth is interested in the Housing of the Poor?

LADY CAROLINE.  I should fancy not at all, Jane.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  We all have our different tastes, have we not?  But
Lord Illingworth has a very high position, and there is nothing he
couldn’t get if he chose to ask for it.  Of course, he is comparatively a
young man still, and he has only come to his title within—how long
exactly is it, Caroline, since Lord Illingworth succeeded?

LADY CAROLINE.  About four years, I think, Jane.  I know it was the same
year in which my brother had his last exposure in the evening newspapers.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, I remember.  That would be about four years ago.
Of course, there were a great many people between the present Lord
Illingworth and the title, Mrs. Arbuthnot.  There was—who was there,
Caroline?

LADY CAROLINE.  There was poor Margaret’s baby.  You remember how anxious
she was to have a boy, and it was a boy, but it died, and her husband
died shortly afterwards, and she married almost immediately one of Lord
Ascot’s sons, who, I am told, beats her.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, that is in the family, dear, that is in the family.
And there was also, I remember, a clergyman who wanted to be a lunatic,
or a lunatic who wanted to be a clergyman, I forget which, but I know the
Court of Chancery investigated the matter, and decided that he was quite
sane.  And I saw him afterwards at poor Lord Plumstead’s with straws in
his hair, or something very odd about him.  I can’t recall what.  I often
regret, Lady Caroline, that dear Lady Cecilia never lived to see her son
get the title.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Lady Cecilia?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Lord Illingworth’s mother, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, was one
of the Duchess of Jerningham’s pretty daughters, and she married Sir
Thomas Harford, who wasn’t considered a very good match for her at the
time, though he was said to be the handsomest man in London.  I knew them
all quite intimately, and both the sons, Arthur and George.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It was the eldest son who succeeded, of course, Lady
Hunstanton?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  No, dear, he was killed in the hunting field.  Or was
it fishing, Caroline?  I forget.  But George came in for everything.  I
always tell him that no younger son has ever had such good luck as he has
had.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Lady Hunstanton, I want to speak to Gerald at once.
Might I see him?  Can he be sent for?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Certainly, dear.  I will send one of the servants into
the dining-room to fetch him.  I don’t know what keeps the gentlemen so
long.  [_Rings bell_.]  When I knew Lord Illingworth first as plain
George Harford, he was simply a very brilliant young man about town, with
not a penny of money except what poor dear Lady Cecilia gave him.  She
was quite devoted to him.  Chiefly, I fancy, because he was on bad terms
with his father.  Oh, here is the dear Archdeacon.  [_To Servant_.]  It
doesn’t matter.

[_Enter_ SIR JOHN _and_ DOCTOR DAUBENY.  SIR JOHN _goes over to_ LADY
STUTFIELD, DOCTOR DAUBENY _to_ LADY HUNSTANTON.]

THE ARCHDEACON.  Lord Illingworth has been most entertaining.  I have
never enjoyed myself more.  [_Sees_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]  Ah, Mrs. Arbuthnot.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_To_ DOCTOR BAUBENY.]  You see I have got Mrs.
Arbuthnot to come to me at last.

THE ARCHDEACON.  That is a great honour, Lady Hunstanton.  Mrs. Daubeny
will be quite jealous of you.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, I am so sorry Mrs. Daubeny could not come with you
to-night.  Headache as usual, I suppose.

THE ARCHDEACON.  Yes, Lady Hunstanton; a perfect martyr.  But she is
happiest alone.  She is happiest alone.

LADY CAROLINE.  [_To her husband_.]  John!  [SIR JOHN _goes over to his
wife_.  DOCTOR BAUBENY _talks to_ LADY HUNSTANTON _and_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]

[MRS. ARBUTHNOT watches LORD ILLINGWORTH the whole time.  He has passed
across the room without noticing her, and approaches MRS. ALLONBY, who
with LADY STUTFIELD is standing by the door looking on to the terrace.]

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  How is the most charming woman in the world?

MRS. ALLONBY.  [Taking LADY STUTFIELD by the hand.]  We are both quite
well, thank you, Lord Illingworth.  But what a short time you have been
in the dining-room!  It seems as if we had only just left.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I was bored to death.  Never opened my lips the whole
time.  Absolutely longing to come in to you.

MRS. ALLONBY.  You should have.  The American girl has been giving us a
lecture.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Really?  All Americans lecture, I believe.  I suppose
it is something in their climate.  What did she lecture about?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Oh, Puritanism, of course.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I am going to convert her, am I not?  How long do you
give me?

MRS. ALLONBY.  A week.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  A week is more than enough.

[_Enter_ GERALD _and_ LORD ALFRED.]

GERALD.  [_Going to_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]  Dear mother!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald, I don’t feel at all well.  See me home, Gerald.
I shouldn’t have come.

GERALD.  I am so sorry, mother.  Certainly.  But you must know Lord
Illingworth first.  [_Goes across room_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Not to-night, Gerald.

GERALD.  Lord Illingworth, I want you so much to know my mother.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  With the greatest pleasure.  [_To_ MRS. ALLONBY.]
I’ll be back in a moment.  People’s mothers always bore me to death.  All
women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.

MRS. ALLONBY.  No man does.  That is his.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What a delightful mood you are in to-night!  [_Turns
round and goes across with_ GERALD _to_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  _When he sees
her_, _he starts back in wonder_.  _Then slowly his eyes turn towards_
GERALD.]

GERALD.  Mother, this is Lord Illingworth, who has offered to take me as
his private secretary.  [MRS. ARBUTHNOT _bows coldly_.]  It is a
wonderful opening for me, isn’t it?  I hope he won’t be disappointed in
me, that is all.  You’ll thank Lord Illingworth, mother, won’t you?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Lord Illingworth in very good, I am sure, to interest
himself in you for the moment.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  [_Putting his hand on_ GERALD’S _shoulder_.]  Oh,
Gerald and I are great friends already, Mrs . . . Arbuthnot.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  There can be nothing in common between you and my son,
Lord Illingworth.

GERALD.  Dear mother, how can you say so?  Of course Lord Illingworth is
awfully clever and that sort of thing.  There is nothing Lord Illingworth
doesn’t know.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  My dear boy!

GERALD.  He knows more about life than any one I have ever met.  I feel
an awful duffer when I am with you, Lord Illingworth.  Of course, I have
had so few advantages.  I have not been to Eton or Oxford like other
chaps.  But Lord Illingworth doesn’t seem to mind that.  He has been
awfully good to me, mother.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Lord Illingworth may change his mind.  He may not really
want you as his secretary.

GERALD.  Mother!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  You must remember, as you said yourself, you have had so
few advantages.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Lord Illingworth, I want to speak to you for a moment.  Do
come over.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Will you excuse me, Mrs. Arbuthnot?  Now, don’t let
your charming mother make any more difficulties, Gerald.  The thing is
quite settled, isn’t it?

GERALD.  I hope so.  [LORD ILLINGWORTH _goes across to_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  I thought you were never going to leave the lady in black
velvet.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  She is excessively handsome.  [_Looks at_ MRS.
ARBUTHNOT.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Caroline, shall we all make a move to the music-room?
Miss Worsley is going to play.  You’ll come too, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot,
won’t you?  You don’t know what a treat is in store for you.  [_To_
DOCTOR BAUBENY.]  I must really take Miss Worsley down some afternoon to
the rectory.  I should so much like dear Mrs. Daubeny to hear her on the
violin.  Ah, I forgot.  Dear Mrs. Daubeny’s hearing is a little
defective, is it not?

THE ARCHDEACON.  Her deafness is a great privation to her.  She can’t
even hear my sermons now.  She reads them at home.  But she has many
resources in herself, many resources.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  She reads a good deal, I suppose?

THE ARCHDEACON.  Just the very largest print.  The eyesight is rapidly
going.  But she’s never morbid, never morbid.

GERALD.  [_To_ LORD ILLINGWORTH.]  Do speak to my mother, Lord
Illingworth, before you go into the music-room.  She seems to think,
somehow, you don’t mean what you said to me.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Aren’t you coming?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  In a few moments.  Lady Hunstanton, if Mrs. Arbuthnot
would allow me, I would like to say a few words to her, and we will join
you later on.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, of course.  You will have a great deal to say to
her, and she will have a great deal to thank you for.  It is not every
son who gets such an offer, Mrs. Arbuthnot.  But I know you appreciate
that, dear.

LADY CAROLINE.  John!

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Now, don’t keep Mrs. Arbuthnot too long, Lord
Illingworth.  We can’t spare her.

[_Exit following the other guests_.  _Sound of violin heard from
music-room_.]

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  So that is our son, Rachel!  Well, I am very proud of
him.  He in a Harford, every inch of him.  By the way, why Arbuthnot,
Rachel?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  One name is as good as another, when one has no right to
any name.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I suppose so—but why Gerald?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  After a man whose heart I broke—after my father.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Well, Rachel, what in over is over.  All I have got to
say now in that I am very, very much pleased with our boy.  The world
will know him merely as my private secretary, but to me he will be
something very near, and very dear.  It is a curious thing, Rachel; my
life seemed to be quite complete.  It was not so.  It lacked something,
it lacked a son.  I have found my son now, I am glad I have found him.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  You have no right to claim him, or the smallest part of
him.  The boy is entirely mine, and shall remain mine.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  My dear Rachel, you have had him to yourself for over
twenty years.  Why not let me have him for a little now?  He is quite as
much mine as yours.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Are you talking of the child you abandoned?  Of the
child who, as far as you are concerned, might have died of hunger and of
want?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You forget, Rachel, it was you who left me.  It was
not I who left you.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I left you because you refused to give the child a name.
Before my son was born, I implored you to marry me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I had no expectations then.  And besides, Rachel, I
wasn’t much older than you were.  I was only twenty-two.  I was
twenty-one, I believe, when the whole thing began in your father’s
garden.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  When a man is old enough to do wrong he should be old
enough to do right also.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  My dear Rachel, intellectual generalities are always
interesting, but generalities in morals mean absolutely nothing.  As for
saying I left our child to starve, that, of course, is untrue and silly.
My mother offered you six hundred a year.  But you wouldn’t take
anything.  You simply disappeared, and carried the child away with you.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I wouldn’t have accepted a penny from her.  Your father
was different.  He told you, in my presence, when we were in Paris, that
it was your duty to marry me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Oh, duty is what one expects from others, it is not
what one does oneself.  Of course, I was influenced by my mother.  Every
man is when he is young.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I am glad to hear you say so.  Gerald shall certainly
not go away with you.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What nonsense, Rachel!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Do you think I would allow my son—

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  _Our_ son.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  My son [LORD ILLINGWORTH _shrugs his shoulders_]—to go
away with the man who spoiled my youth, who ruined my life, who has
tainted every moment of my days?  You don’t realise what my past has been
in suffering and in shame.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  My dear Rachel, I must candidly say that I think
Gerald’s future considerably more important than your past.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald cannot separate his future from my past.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  That is exactly what he should do.  That is exactly
what you should help him to do.  What a typical woman you are!  You talk
sentimentally, and you are thoroughly selfish the whole time.  But don’t
let us have a scene.  Rachel, I want you to look at this matter from the
common-sense point of view, from the point of view of what is best for
our son, leaving you and me out of the question.  What is our son at
present?  An underpaid clerk in a small Provincial Bank in a third-rate
English town.  If you imagine he is quite happy in such a position, you
are mistaken.  He is thoroughly discontented.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He was not discontented till he met you.  You have made
him so.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Of course, I made him so.  Discontent is the first
step in the progress of a man or a nation.  But I did not leave him with
a mere longing for things he could not get.  No, I made him a charming
offer.  He jumped at it, I need hardly say.  Any young man would.  And
now, simply because it turns out that I am the boy’s own father and he my
own son, you propose practically to ruin his career.  That is to say, if
I were a perfect stranger, you would allow Gerald to go away with me, but
as he is my own flesh and blood you won’t.  How utterly illogical you
are!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I will not allow him to go.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  How can you prevent it?  What excuse can you give to
him for making him decline such an offer as mine?  I won’t tell him in
what relations I stand to him, I need hardly say.  But you daren’t tell
him.  You know that.  Look how you have brought him up.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I have brought him up to be a good man.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Quite so.  And what is the result?  You have educated
him to be your judge if he ever finds you out.  And a bitter, an unjust
judge he will be to you.  Don’t be deceived, Rachel.  Children begin by
loving their parents.  After a time they judge them.  Rarely, if ever, do
they forgive them.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  George, don’t take my son away from me.  I have had
twenty years of sorrow, and I have only had one thing to love me, only
one thing to love.  You have had a life of joy, and pleasure, and
success.  You have been quite happy, you have never thought of us.  There
was no reason, according to your views of life, why you should have
remembered us at all.  Your meeting us was a mere accident, a horrible
accident.  Forget it.  Don’t come now, and rob me of . . . of all I have
in the whole world.  You are so rich in other things.  Leave me the
little vineyard of my life; leave me the walled-in garden and the well of
water; the ewe-lamb God sent me, in pity or in wrath, oh! leave me that.
George, don’t take Gerald from me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Rachel, at the present moment you are not necessary to
Gerald’s career; I am.  There is nothing more to be said on the subject.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I will not let him go.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Here is Gerald.  He has a right to decide for himself.

[_Enter_ GERALD.]

GERALD.  Well, dear mother, I hope you have settled it all with Lord
Illingworth?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I have not, Gerald.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Your mother seems not to like your coming with me, for
some reason.

GERALD.  Why, mother?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I thought you were quite happy here with me, Gerald.  I
didn’t know you were so anxious to leave me.

GERALD.  Mother, how can you talk like that?  Of course I have been quite
happy with you.  But a man can’t stay always with his mother.  No chap
does.  I want to make myself a position, to do something.  I thought you
would have been proud to see me Lord Illingworth’s secretary.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I do not think you would be suitable as a private
secretary to Lord Illingworth.  You have no qualifications.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I don’t wish to seem to interfere for a moment, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, but as far as your last objection is concerned, I surely am
the best judge.  And I can only tell you that your son has all the
qualifications I had hoped for.  He has more, in fact, than I had even
thought of.  Far more.  [MRS. ARBUTHNOT _remains silent_.]  Have you any
other reason, Mrs. Arbuthnot, why you don’t wish your son to accept this
post?

GERALD.  Have you, mother?  Do answer.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  If you have, Mrs. Arbuthnot, pray, pray say it.  We
are quite by ourselves here.  Whatever it is, I need not say I will not
repeat it.

GERALD.  Mother?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  If you would like to be alone with your son, I will
leave you.  You may have some other reason you don’t wish me to hear.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I have no other reason.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Then, my dear boy, we may look on the thing as
settled.  Come, you and I will smoke a cigarette on the terrace together.
And Mrs. Arbuthnot, pray let me tell you, that I think you have acted
very, very wisely.

[_Exit with_ GERALD.  MRS. ARBUTHNOT _is left alone_.  _She stands
immobile with a look of unutterable sorrow on her face_.]

                                 ACT DROP



THIRD ACT


                                  SCENE

    _The Picture Gallery at Hunstanton_.  _Door at back leading on to
                                terrace_.

[LORD ILLINGWORTH _and_ GERALD, R.C.  LORD ILLINGWORTH _lolling on a
sofa_.  GERALD _in a chair_.]

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Thoroughly sensible woman, your mother, Gerald.  I
knew she would come round in the end.

GERALD.  My mother is awfully conscientious, Lord Illingworth, and I know
she doesn’t think I am educated enough to be your secretary.  She is
perfectly right, too.  I was fearfully idle when I was at school, and I
couldn’t pass an examination now to save my life.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  My dear Gerald, examinations are of no value
whatsoever.  If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is
not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.

GERALD.  But I am so ignorant of the world, Lord Illingworth.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Don’t be afraid, Gerald.  Remember that you’ve got on
your side the most wonderful thing in the world—youth!  There is nothing
like youth.  The middle-aged are mortgaged to Life.  The old are in
life’s lumber-room.  But youth is the Lord of Life.  Youth has a kingdom
waiting for it.  Every one is born a king, and most people die in exile,
like most kings.  To win back my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I
wouldn’t do—except take exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of
the community.

GERALD.  But you don’t call yourself old, Lord Illingworth?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I am old enough to be your father, Gerald.

GERALD.  I don’t remember my father; he died years ago.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  So Lady Hunstanton told me.

GERALD.  It is very curious, my mother never talks to me about my father.
I sometimes think she must have married beneath her.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  [_Winces slightly_.]  Really?  [_Goes over and puts
his hand on_ GERALD’S _shoulder_.]  You have missed not having a father,
I suppose, Gerald?

GERALD.  Oh, no; my mother has been so good to me.  No one ever had such
a mother as I have had.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I am quite sure of that.  Still I should imagine that
most mothers don’t quite understand their sons.  Don’t realise, I mean,
that a son has ambitions, a desire to see life, to make himself a name.
After all, Gerald, you couldn’t be expected to pass all your life in such
a hole as Wrockley, could you?

GERALD.  Oh, no!  It would be dreadful!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  A mother’s love is very touching, of course, but it is
often curiously selfish.  I mean, there is a good deal of selfishness in
it.

GERALD.  [_Slowly_.]  I suppose there is.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Your mother is a thoroughly good woman.  But good
women have such limited views of life, their horizon is so small, their
interests are so petty, aren’t they?

GERALD.  They are awfully interested, certainly, in things we don’t care
much about.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I suppose your mother is very religious, and that sort
of thing.

GERALD.  Oh, yes, she’s always going to church.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Ah! she is not modern, and to be modern is the only
thing worth being nowadays.  You want to be modern, don’t you, Gerald?
You want to know life as it really is.  Not to be put of with any
old-fashioned theories about life.  Well, what you have to do at present
is simply to fit yourself for the best society.  A man who can dominate a
London dinner-table can dominate the world.  The future belongs to the
dandy.  It is the exquisites who are going to rule.

GERALD.  I should like to wear nice things awfully, but I have always
been told that a man should not think too much about his clothes.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  People nowadays are so absolutely superficial that
they don’t understand the philosophy of the superficial.  By the way,
Gerald, you should learn how to tie your tie better.  Sentiment is all
very well for the button-hole.  But the essential thing for a necktie is
style.  A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.

GERALD.  [_Laughing_.]  I might be able to learn how to tie a tie, Lord
Illingworth, but I should never be able to talk as you do.  I don’t know
how to talk.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Oh! talk to every woman as if you loved her, and to
every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first season you
will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect social tact.

GERALD.  But it is very difficult to get into society isn’t it?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  To get into the best society, nowadays, one has either
to feed people, amuse people, or shock people—that is all!

GERALD.  I suppose society is wonderfully delightful!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  To be in it is merely a bore.  But to be out of it
simply a tragedy.  Society is a necessary thing.  No man has any real
success in this world unless he has got women to back him, and women rule
society.  If you have not got women on your side you are quite over.  You
might just as well be a barrister, or a stockbroker, or a journalist at
once.

GERALD.  It is very difficult to understand women, is it not?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You should never try to understand them.  Women are
pictures.  Men are problems.  If you want to know what a woman really
means—which, by the way, is always a dangerous thing to do—look at her,
don’t listen to her.

GERALD.  But women are awfully clever, aren’t they?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  One should always tell them so.  But, to the
philosopher, my dear Gerald, women represent the triumph of matter over
mind—just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.

GERALD.  How then can women have so much power as you say they have?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  The history of women is the history of the worst form
of tyranny the world has ever known.  The tyranny of the weak over the
strong.  It is the only tyranny that lasts.

GERALD.  But haven’t women got a refining influence?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Nothing refines but the intellect.

GERALD.  Still, there are many different kinds of women, aren’t there?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Only two kinds in society: the plain and the coloured.

GERALD.  But there are good women in society, aren’t there?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Far too many.

GERALD.  But do you think women shouldn’t be good?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  One should never tell them so, they’d all become good
at once.  Women are a fascinatingly wilful sex.  Every woman is a rebel,
and usually in wild revolt against herself.

GERALD.  You have never been married, Lord Illingworth, have you?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Men marry because they are tired; women because they
are curious.  Both are disappointed.

GERALD.  But don’t you think one can be happy when one is married?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Perfectly happy.  But the happiness of a married man,
my dear Gerald, depends on the people he has not married.

GERALD.  But if one is in love?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  One should always be in love.  That is the reason one
should never marry.

GERALD.  Love is a very wonderful thing, isn’t it?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  When one is in love one begins by deceiving oneself.
And one ends by deceiving others.  That is what the world calls a
romance.  But a really _grande passion_ is comparatively rare nowadays.
It is the privilege of people who have nothing to do.  That is the one
use of the idle classes in a country, and the only possible explanation
of us Harfords.

GERALD.  Harfords, Lord Illingworth?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  That is my family name.  You should study the Peerage,
Gerald.  It is the one book a young man about town should know
thoroughly, and it is the best thing in fiction the English have ever
done.  And now, Gerald, you are going into a perfectly new life with me,
and I want you to know how to live.  [MRS. ARBUTHNOT _appears on terrace
behind_.]  For the world has been made by fools that wise men should live
in it!

[_Enter_ L.C. LADY HUNSTANTON _and_ DR. DAUBENY.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! here you are, dear Lord Illingworth.  Well, I
suppose you have been telling our young friend, Gerald, what his new
duties are to be, and giving him a great deal of good advice over a
pleasant cigarette.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I have been giving him the best of advice, Lady
Hunstanton, and the best of cigarettes.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I am so sorry I was not here to listen to you, but I
suppose I am too old now to learn.  Except from you, dear Archdeacon,
when you are in your nice pulpit.  But then I always know what you are
going to say, so I don’t feel alarmed.  [_Sees_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]  Ah!
dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, do come and join us.  Come, dear.  [_Enter_ MRS.
ARBUTHNOT.]  Gerald has been having such a long talk with Lord
Illingworth; I am sure you must feel very much flattered at the pleasant
way in which everything has turned out for him.  Let us sit down.  [_They
sit down_.]  And how is your beautiful embroidery going on?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I am always at work, Lady Hunstanton.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Mrs. Daubeny embroiders a little, too, doesn’t she?

THE ARCHDEACON.  She was very deft with her needle once, quite a Dorcas.
But the gout has crippled her fingers a good deal.  She has not touched
the tambour frame for nine or ten years.  But she has many other
amusements.  She is very much interested in her own health.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! that is always a nice distraction, in it not?  Now,
what are you talking about, Lord Illingworth?  Do tell us.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I was on the point of explaining to Gerald that the
world has always laughed at its own tragedies, that being the only way in
which it has been able to bear them.  And that, consequently, whatever
the world has treated seriously belongs to the comedy side of things.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Now I am quite out of my depth.  I usually am when Lord
Illingworth says anything.  And the Humane Society is most careless.
They never rescue me.  I am left to sink.  I have a dim idea, dear Lord
Illingworth, that you are always on the side of the sinners, and I know I
always try to be on the side of the saints, but that is as far as I get.
And after all, it may be merely the fancy of a drowning person.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  The only difference between the saint and the sinner
is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! that quite does for me.  I haven’t a word to say.
You and I, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, are behind the age.  We can’t follow Lord
Illingworth.  Too much care was taken with our education, I am afraid.
To have been well brought up is a great drawback nowadays.  It shuts one
out from so much.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I should be sorry to follow Lord Illingworth in any of
his opinions.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You are quite right, dear.

[GERALD _shrugs his shoulders and looks irritably over at his mother_.
_Enter_ LADY CAROLINE.]

LADY CAROLINE.  Jane, have you seen John anywhere?

LADY HUNSTANTON.  You needn’t be anxious about him, dear.  He is with
Lady Stutfield; I saw them some time ago, in the Yellow Drawing-room.
They seem quite happy together.  You are not going, Caroline?  Pray sit
down.

LADY CAROLINE.  I think I had better look after John.

[_Exit_ LADY CAROLINE.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  It doesn’t do to pay men so much attention.  And
Caroline has really nothing to be anxious about.  Lady Stutfield is very
sympathetic.  She is just as sympathetic about one thing as she is about
another.  A beautiful nature.

[_Enter_ SIR JOHN _and_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

Ah! here is Sir John!  And with Mrs. Allonby too!  I suppose it was Mrs.
Allonby I saw him with.  Sir John, Caroline has been looking everywhere
for you.

MRS. ALLONBY.  We have been waiting for her in the Music-room, dear Lady
Hunstanton.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! the Music-room, of course.  I thought it was the
Yellow Drawing-room, my memory is getting so defective.  [_To the_
ARCHDEACON.]  Mrs. Daubeny has a wonderful memory, hasn’t she?

THE ARCHDEACON.  She used to be quite remarkable for her memory, but
since her last attack she recalls chiefly the events of her early
childhood.  But she finds great pleasure in such retrospections, great
pleasure.

[_Enter_ LADY STUTFIELD _and_ MR. KELVIL.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! dear Lady Stutfield! and what has Mr. Kelvil been
talking to you about?

LADY STUTFIELD.  About Bimetallism, as well as I remember.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Bimetallism!  Is that quite a nice subject?  However, I
know people discuss everything very freely nowadays.  What did Sir John
talk to you about, dear Mrs. Allonby?

MRS. ALLONBY.  About Patagonia.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Really?  What a remote topic!  But very improving, I
have no doubt.

MRS. ALLONBY.  He has been most interesting on the subject of Patagonia.
Savages seem to have quite the same views as cultured people on almost
all subjects.  They are excessively advanced.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  What do they do?

MRS. ALLONBY.  Apparently everything.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Well, it is very gratifying, dear Archdeacon, is it
not, to find that Human Nature is permanently one.—On the whole, the
world is the same world, is it not?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  The world is simply divided into two classes—those who
believe the incredible, like the public—and those who do the improbable—

MRS. ALLONBY.  Like yourself?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Yes; I am always astonishing myself.  It is the only
thing that makes life worth living.

LADY STUTFIELD.  And what have you been doing lately that astonishes you?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I have been discovering all kinds of beautiful
qualities in my own nature.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah! don’t become quite perfect all at once.  Do it
gradually!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I don’t intend to grow perfect at all.  At least, I
hope I shan’t.  It would be most inconvenient.  Women love us for our
defects.  If we have enough of them, they will forgive us everything,
even our gigantic intellects.

MRS. ALLONBY.  It is premature to ask us to forgive analysis.  We forgive
adoration; that is quite as much as should be expected from us.

[_Enter_ LORD ALFRED.  _He joins_ LADY STUTFIELD.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! we women should forgive everything, shouldn’t we,
dear Mrs. Arbuthnot?  I am sure you agree with me in that.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I do not, Lady Hunstanton.  I think there are many
things women should never forgive.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  What sort of things?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  The ruin of another woman’s life.

[_Moves slowly away to back of stage_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah! those things are very sad, no doubt, but I believe
there are admirable homes where people of that kind are looked after and
reformed, and I think on the whole that the secret of life is to take
things very, very easily.

MRS. ALLONBY.  The secret of life is never to have an emotion that is
unbecoming.

LADY STUTFIELD.  The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure of
being terribly, terribly deceived.

KELVIL.  The secret of life is to resist temptation, Lady Stutfield.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  There is no secret of life.  Life’s aim, if it has
one, is simply to be always looking for temptations.  There are not
nearly enough.  I sometimes pass a whole day without coming across a
single one.  It is quite dreadful.  It makes one so nervous about the
future.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_Shakes her fan at him_.]  I don’t know how it is,
dear Lord Illingworth, but everything you have said to-day seems to me
excessively immoral.  It has been most interesting, listening to you.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  All thought is immoral.  Its very essence is
destruction.  If you think of anything, you kill it.  Nothing survives
being thought of.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I don’t understand a word, Lord Illingworth.  But I
have no doubt it is all quite true.  Personally, I have very little to
reproach myself with, on the score of thinking.  I don’t believe in women
thinking too much.  Women should think in moderation, as they should do
all things in moderation.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Moderation is a fatal thing, Lady Hunstanton.  Nothing
succeeds like excess.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I hope I shall remember that.  It sounds an admirable
maxim.  But I’m beginning to forget everything.  It’s a great misfortune.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is one of your most fascinating qualities, Lady
Hunstanton.  No woman should have a memory.  Memory in a woman is the
beginning of dowdiness.  One can always tell from a woman’s bonnet
whether she has got a memory or not.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  How charming you are, dear Lord Illingworth.  You
always find out that one’s most glaring fault is one’s most important
virtue.  You have the most comforting views of life.

[_Enter_ FARQUHAR.]

FARQUHAR.  Doctor Daubeny’s carriage!

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear Archdeacon!  It is only half-past ten.

THE ARCHDEACON.  [_Rising_.]  I am afraid I must go, Lady Hunstanton.
Tuesday is always one of Mrs. Daubeny’s bad nights.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_Rising_.]  Well, I won’t keep you from her.  [_Goes
with him towards door_.]  I have told Farquhar to put a brace of
partridge into the carriage.  Mrs. Daubeny may fancy them.

THE ARCHDEACON.  It is very kind of you, but Mrs. Daubeny never touches
solids now.  Lives entirely on jellies.  But she is wonderfully cheerful,
wonderfully cheerful.  She has nothing to complain of.

[_Exit with_ LADY HUNSTANTON.]

MRS. ALLONBY.  [_Goes over to_ LORD ILLINGWORTH.]  There is a beautiful
moon to-night.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Let us go and look at it.  To look at anything that is
inconstant is charming nowadays.

MRS. ALLONBY.  You have your looking-glass.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is unkind.  It merely shows me my wrinkles.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Mine is better behaved.  It never tells me the truth.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Then it is in love with you.

[_Exeunt_ SIR JOHN, LADY STUTFIELD, MR. KELVIL _and_ LORD ALFRED.]

GERALD.  [_To_ LORD ILLINGWORTH]  May I come too?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Do, my dear boy.  [_Moves towards with_ MRS. ALLONBY
_and_ GERALD.]

[LADY CAROLINE _enters_, _looks rapidly round and goes off in opposite
direction to that taken by_ SIR JOHN _and_ LADY STUTFIELD.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald!

GERALD.  What, mother!

[_Exit_ LORD ILLINGWORTH _with_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It is getting late.  Let us go home.

GERALD.  My dear mother.  Do let us wait a little longer.  Lord
Illingworth is so delightful, and, by the way, mother, I have a great
surprise for you.  We are starting for India at the end of this month.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Let us go home.

GERALD.  If you really want to, of course, mother, but I must bid
good-bye to Lord Illingworth first.  I’ll be back in five minutes.
[_Exit_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Let him leave me if he chooses, but not with him—not
with him!  I couldn’t bear it.  [_Walks up and down_.]

[_Enter_ HESTER.]

HESTER.  What a lovely night it is, Mrs. Arbuthnot.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Is it?

HESTER.  Mrs. Arbuthnot, I wish you would let us be friends.  You are so
different from the other women here.  When you came into the Drawing-room
this evening, somehow you brought with you a sense of what is good and
pure in life.  I had been foolish.  There are things that are right to
say, but that may be said at the wrong time and to the wrong people.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I heard what you said.  I agree with it, Miss Worsley.

HESTER.  I didn’t know you had heard it.  But I knew you would agree with
me.  A woman who has sinned should be punished, shouldn’t she?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Yes.

HESTER.  She shouldn’t be allowed to come into the society of good men
and women?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  She should not.

HESTER.  And the man should be punished in the same way?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  In the same way.  And the children, if there are
children, in the same way also?

HESTER.  Yes, it is right that the sins of the parents should be visited
on the children.  It is a just law.  It is God’s law.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It is one of God’s terrible laws.

[_Moves away to fireplace_.]

HESTER.  You are distressed about your son leaving you, Mrs. Arbuthnot?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Yes.

HESTER.  Do you like him going away with Lord Illingworth?  Of course
there is position, no doubt, and money, but position and money are not
everything, are they?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  They are nothing; they bring misery.

HESTER.  Then why do you let your son go with him?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He wishes it himself.

HESTER.  But if you asked him he would stay, would he not?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He has set his heart on going.

HESTER.  He couldn’t refuse you anything.  He loves you too much.  Ask
him to stay.  Let me send him in to you.  He is on the terrace at this
moment with Lord Illingworth.  I heard them laughing together as I passed
through the Music-room.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Don’t trouble, Miss Worsley, I can wait.  It is of no
consequence.

HESTER.  No, I’ll tell him you want him.  Do—do ask him to stay.  [_Exit_
HESTER.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He won’t come—I know he won’t come.

[Enter LADY CAROLINE.  _She looks round anxiously_.  _Enter_ GERALD.]

LADY CAROLINE.  Mr. Arbuthnot, may I ask you is Sir John anywhere on the
terrace?

GERALD.  No, Lady Caroline, he is not on the terrace.

LADY CAROLINE.  It is very curious.  It is time for him to retire.

[_Exit_ LADY CAROLINE.]

GERALD.  Dear mother, I am afraid I kept you waiting.  I forgot all about
it.  I am so happy to-night, mother; I have never been so happy.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  At the prospect of going away?

GERALD.  Don’t put it like that, mother.  Of course I am sorry to leave
you.  Why, you are the best mother in the whole world.  But after all, as
Lord Illingworth says, it is impossible to live in such a place as
Wrockley.  You don’t mind it.  But I’m ambitions; I want something more
than that.  I want to have a career.  I want to do something that will
make you proud of me, and Lord Illingworth is going to help me.  He is
going to do everything for me.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald, don’t go away with Lord Illingworth.  I implore
you not to.  Gerald, I beg you!

GERALD.  Mother, how changeable you are!  You don’t seem to know your own
mind for a single moment.  An hour and a half ago in the Drawing-room you
agreed to the whole thing; now you turn round and make objections, and
try to force me to give up my one chance in life.  Yes, my one chance.
You don’t suppose that men like Lord Illingworth are to be found every
day, do you, mother?  It is very strange that when I have had such a
wonderful piece of good luck, the one person to put difficulties in my
way should be my own mother.  Besides, you know, mother, I love Hester
Worsley.  Who could help loving her?  I love her more than I have ever
told you, far more.  And if I had a position, if I had prospects, I
could—I could ask her to—Don’t you understand now, mother, what it means
to me to be Lord Illingworth’s secretary?  To start like that is to find
a career ready for one—before one—waiting for one.  If I were Lord
Illingworth’s secretary I could ask Hester to be my wife.  As a wretched
bank clerk with a hundred a year it would be an impertinence.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I fear you need have no hopes of Miss Worsley.  I know
her views on life.  She has just told them to me.  [_A pause_.]

GERALD.  Then I have my ambition left, at any rate.  That is something—I
am glad I have that!  You have always tried to crush my ambition,
mother—haven’t you?  You have told me that the world is a wicked place,
that success is not worth having, that society is shallow, and all that
sort of thing—well, I don’t believe it, mother.  I think the world must
be delightful.  I think society must be exquisite.  I think success is a
thing worth having.  You have been wrong in all that you taught me,
mother, quite wrong.  Lord Illingworth is a successful man.  He is a
fashionable man.  He is a man who lives in the world and for it.  Well, I
would give anything to be just like Lord Illingworth.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I would sooner see you dead.

GERALD.  Mother, what is your objection to Lord Illingworth?  Tell
me—tell me right out.  What is it?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He is a bad man.

GERALD.  In what way bad?  I don’t understand what you mean.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I will tell you.

GERALD.  I suppose you think him bad, because he doesn’t believe the same
things as you do.  Well, men are different from women, mother.  It is
natural that they should have different views.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It is not what Lord Illingworth believes, or what he
does not believe, that makes him bad.  It is what he is.

GERALD.  Mother, is it something you know of him?  Something you actually
know?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It is something I know.

GERALD.  Something you are quite sure of?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Quite sure of.

GERALD.  How long have you known it?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  For twenty years.

GERALD.  Is it fair to go back twenty years in any man’s career?  And
what have you or I to do with Lord Illingworth’s early life?  What
business is it of ours?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  What this man has been, he is now, and will be always.

GERALD.  Mother, tell me what Lord Illingworth did?  If he did anything
shameful, I will not go away with him.  Surely you know me well enough
for that?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald, come near to me.  Quite close to me, as you used
to do when you were a little boy, when you were mother’s own boy.
[GERALD _sits down betide his mother_.  _She runs her fingers through his
hair_, _and strokes his hands_.]  Gerald, there was a girl once, she was
very young, she was little over eighteen at the time.  George
Harford—that was Lord Illingworth’s name then—George Harford met her.
She knew nothing about life.  He—knew everything.  He made this girl love
him.  He made her love him so much that she left her father’s house with
him one morning.  She loved him so much, and he had promised to marry
her!  He had solemnly promised to marry her, and she had believed him.
She was very young, and—and ignorant of what life really is.  But he put
the marriage off from week to week, and month to month.—She trusted in
him all the while.  She loved him.—Before her child was born—for she had
a child—she implored him for the child’s sake to marry her, that the
child might have a name, that her sin might not be visited on the child,
who was innocent.  He refused.  After the child was born she left him,
taking the child away, and her life was ruined, and her soul ruined, and
all that was sweet, and good, and pure in her ruined also.  She suffered
terribly—she suffers now.  She will always suffer.  For her there is no
joy, no peace, no atonement.  She is a woman who drags a chain like a
guilty thing.  She is a woman who wears a mask, like a thing that is a
leper.  The fire cannot purify her.  The waters cannot quench her
anguish.  Nothing can heal her! no anodyne can give her sleep! no poppies
forgetfulness!  She is lost!  She is a lost soul!—That is why I call Lord
Illingworth a bad man.  That is why I don’t want my boy to be with him.

GERALD.  My dear mother, it all sounds very tragic, of course.  But I
dare say the girl was just as much to blame as Lord Illingworth
was.—After all, would a really nice girl, a girl with any nice feelings
at all, go away from her home with a man to whom she was not married, and
live with him as his wife?  No nice girl would.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_After a pause_.]  Gerald, I withdraw all my
objections.  You are at liberty to go away with Lord Illingworth, when
and where you choose.

GERALD.  Dear mother, I knew you wouldn’t stand in my way.  You are the
best woman God ever made.  And, as for Lord Illingworth, I don’t believe
he is capable of anything infamous or base.  I can’t believe it of him—I
can’t.

HESTER.  [_Outside_.]  Let me go!  Let me go!  [_Enter_ HESTER _in
terror_, _and rushes over to_ GERALD _and flings herself in his arms_.]

HESTER.  Oh! save me—save me from him!

GERALD.  From whom?

HESTER.  He has insulted me!  Horribly insulted me!  Save me!

GERALD.  Who?  Who has dared—?

[LORD ILLINGWORTH _enters at back of stage_.  HESTER _breaks from_
GERALD’S _arms and points to him_.]

GERALD  [_He is quite beside himself with rage and indignation_.]  Lord
Illingworth, you have insulted the purest thing on God’s earth, a thing
as pure as my own mother.  You have insulted the woman I love most in the
world with my own mother.  As there is a God in Heaven, I will kill you!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_Rushing across and catching hold of him_]  No! no!

GERALD.  [_Thrusting her back_.]  Don’t hold me, mother.  Don’t hold
me—I’ll kill him!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald!

GERALD.  Let me go, I say!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Stop, Gerald, stop!  He is your own father!

[GERALD _clutches his mother’s hands and looks into her face_.  _She
sinks slowly on the ground in shame_.  HESTER _steals towards the door_.
LORD ILLINGWORTH _frowns and bites his lip_.  _After a time_ GERALD
_raises his mother up_, _puts his am round her_, _and leads her from the
room_.]

                                 ACT DROP



FOURTH ACT


                                  SCENE

_Sitting-room at Mrs. Arbuthnot’s_.  _Large open French window at back_,
_looking on to garden_.  _Doors_ R.C. _and_ L.C.

[GERALD ARBUTHNOT _writing at table_.]

[_Enter_ ALICE R.C. _followed by_ LADY HUNSTANTON _and_ MRS. ALLONBY.]

ALICE.  Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby.

[_Exit_ L.C.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Good morning, Gerald.

GERALD.  [_Rising_.]  Good morning, Lady Hunstanton.  Good morning, Mrs.
Allonby.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_Sitting down_.]  We came to inquire for your dear
mother, Gerald.  I hope she is better?

GERALD.  My mother has not come down yet, Lady Hunstanton.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Ah, I am afraid the heat was too much for her last
night.  I think there must have been thunder in the air.  Or perhaps it
was the music.  Music makes one feel so romantic—at least it always gets
on one’s nerves.

MRS. ALLONBY.  It’s the same thing, nowadays.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  I am so glad I don’t know what you mean, dear.  I am
afraid you mean something wrong.  Ah, I see you’re examining Mrs.
Arbuthnot’s pretty room.  Isn’t it nice and old-fashioned?

MRS. ALLONBY.  [_Surveying the room through her lorgnette_.]  It looks
quite the happy English home.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  That’s just the word, dear; that just describes it.
One feels your mother’s good influence in everything she has about her,
Gerald.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Lord Illingworth says that all influence is bad, but that
a good influence is the worst in the world.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  When Lord Illingworth knows Mrs. Arbuthnot better he
will change his mind.  I must certainly bring him here.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I should like to see Lord Illingworth in a happy English
home.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  It would do him a great deal of good, dear.  Most women
in London, nowadays, seem to furnish their rooms with nothing but
orchids, foreigners, and French novels.  But here we have the room of a
sweet saint.  Fresh natural flowers, books that don’t shock one, pictures
that one can look at without blushing.

MRS. ALLONBY.  But I like blushing.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Well, there _is_ a good deal to be said for blushing,
if one can do it at the proper moment.  Poor dear Hunstanton used to tell
me I didn’t blush nearly often enough.  But then he was so very
particular.  He wouldn’t let me know any of his men friends, except those
who were over seventy, like poor Lord Ashton: who afterwards, by the way,
was brought into the Divorce Court.  A most unfortunate case.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I delight in men over seventy.  They always offer one the
devotion of a lifetime.  I think seventy an ideal age for a man.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  She is quite incorrigible, Gerald, isn’t she?
By-the-by, Gerald, I hope your dear mother will come and see me more
often now.  You and Lord Illingworth start almost immediately, don’t you?

GERALD.  I have given up my intention of being Lord Illingworth’s
secretary.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Surely not, Gerald!  It would be most unwise of you.
What reason can you have?

GERALD.  I don’t think I should be suitable for the post.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I wish Lord Illingworth would ask me to be his secretary.
But he says I am not serious enough.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear, you really mustn’t talk like that in this
house.  Mrs. Arbuthnot doesn’t know anything about the wicked society in
which we all live.  She won’t go into it.  She is far too good.  I
consider it was a great honour her coming to me last night.  It gave
quite an atmosphere of respectability to the party.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Ah, that must have been what you thought was thunder in
the air.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  My dear, how can you say that?  There is no resemblance
between the two things at all.  But really, Gerald, what do you mean by
not being suitable?

GERALD.  Lord Illingworth’s views of life and mine are too different.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  But, my dear Gerald, at your age you shouldn’t have any
views of life.  They are quite out of place.  You must be guided by
others in this matter.  Lord Illingworth has made you the most flattering
offer, and travelling with him you would see the world—as much of it, at
least, as one should look at—under the best auspices possible, and stay
with all the right people, which is so important at this solemn moment in
your career.

GERALD.  I don’t want to see the world: I’ve seen enough of it.

MRS. ALLONBY.  I hope you don’t think you have exhausted life, Mr.
Arbuthnot.  When a man says that, one knows that life has exhausted him.

GERALD.  I don’t wish to leave my mother.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Now, Gerald, that is pure laziness on your part.  Not
leave your mother!  If I were your mother I would insist on your going.

[_Enter_ ALICE L.C.]

ALICE.  Mrs. Arbuthnot’s compliments, my lady, but she has a bad
headache, and cannot see any one this morning.  [_Exit_ R.C.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_Rising_.]  A bad headache!  I am so sorry!  Perhaps
you’ll bring her up to Hunstanton this afternoon, if she is better,
Gerald.

GERALD.  I am afraid not this afternoon, Lady Hunstanton.

LADY HUNSTANTON.  Well, to-morrow, then.  Ah, if you had a father,
Gerald, he wouldn’t let you waste your life here.  He would send you off
with Lord Illingworth at once.  But mothers are so weak.  They give up to
their sons in everything.  We are all heart, all heart.  Come, dear, I
must call at the rectory and inquire for Mrs. Daubeny, who, I am afraid,
is far from well.  It is wonderful how the Archdeacon bears up, quite
wonderful.  He is the most sympathetic of husbands.  Quite a model.
Good-bye, Gerald, give my fondest love to your mother.

MRS. ALLONBY.  Good-bye, Mr. Arbuthnot.

GERALD.  Good-bye.

[_Exit_ LADY HUNSTANTON _and_ MRS. ALLONBY.  GERALD _sits down and reads
over his letter_.]

GERALD.  What name can I sign?  I, who have no right to any name.
[_Signs name_, _puts letter into envelope_, _addresses it_, _and is about
to seal it_, _when door_ L.C. _opens and_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT _enters_.
GERALD _lays down sealing-wax_.  _Mother and son look at each other_.]

LADY HUNSTANTON.  [_Through French window at the back_.]  Good-bye again,
Gerald.  We are taking the short cut across your pretty garden.  Now,
remember my advice to you—start at once with Lord Illingworth.

MRS. ALLONBY.  _Au revoir_, Mr. Arbuthnot.  Mind you bring me back
something nice from your travels—not an Indian shawl—on no account an
Indian shawl.

[_Exeunt_.]

GERALD.  Mother, I have just written to him.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  To whom?

GERALD.  To my father.  I have written to tell him to come here at four
o’clock this afternoon.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He shall not come here.  He shall not cross the
threshold of my house.

GERALD.  He must come.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Gerald, if you are going away with Lord Illingworth, go
at once.  Go before it kills me: but don’t ask me to meet him.

GERALD.  Mother, you don’t understand.  Nothing in the world would induce
me to go away with Lord Illingworth, or to leave you.  Surely you know me
well enough for that.  No: I have written to him to say—

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  What can you have to say to him?

GERALD.  Can’t you guess, mother, what I have written in this letter?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  No.

GERALD.  Mother, surely you can.  Think, think what must be done, now, at
once, within the next few days.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  There is nothing to be done.

GERALD.  I have written to Lord Illingworth to tell him that he must
marry you.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Marry me?

GERALD.  Mother, I will force him to do it.  The wrong that has been done
you must be repaired.  Atonement must be made.  Justice may be slow,
mother, but it comes in the end.  In a few days you shall be Lord
Illingworth’s lawful wife.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  But, Gerald—

GERALD.  I will insist upon his doing it.  I will make him do it: he will
not dare to refuse.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  But, Gerald, it is I who refuse.  I will not marry Lord
Illingworth.

GERALD.  Not marry him?  Mother!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I will not marry him.

GERALD.  But you don’t understand: it is for your sake I am talking, not
for mine.  This marriage, this necessary marriage, this marriage which
for obvious reasons must inevitably take place, will not help me, will
not give me a name that will be really, rightly mine to bear.  But surely
it will be something for you, that you, my mother, should, however late,
become the wife of the man who is my father.  Will not that be something?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I will not marry him.

GERALD.  Mother, you must.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I will not.  You talk of atonement for a wrong done.
What atonement can be made to me?  There is no atonement possible.  I am
disgraced: he is not.  That is all.  It is the usual history of a man and
a woman as it usually happens, as it always happens.  And the ending is
the ordinary ending.  The woman suffers.  The man goes free.

GERALD.  I don’t know if that is the ordinary ending, mother: I hope it
is not.  But your life, at any rate, shall not end like that.  The man
shall make whatever reparation is possible.  It is not enough.  It does
not wipe out the past, I know that.  But at least it makes the future
better, better for you, mother.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I refuse to marry Lord Illingworth.

GERALD.  If he came to you himself and asked you to be his wife you would
give him a different answer.  Remember, he is my father.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  If he came himself, which he will not do, my answer
would be the same.  Remember I am your mother.

GERALD.  Mother, you make it terribly difficult for me by talking like
that; and I can’t understand why you won’t look at this matter from the
right, from the only proper standpoint.  It is to take away the
bitterness out of your life, to take away the shadow that lies on your
name, that this marriage must take place.  There is no alternative: and
after the marriage you and I can go away together.  But the marriage must
take place first.  It is a duty that you owe, not merely to yourself, but
to all other women—yes: to all the other women in the world, lest he
betray more.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I owe nothing to other women.  There is not one of them
to help me.  There is not one woman in the world to whom I could go for
pity, if I would take it, or for sympathy, if I could win it.  Women are
hard on each other.  That girl, last night, good though she is, fled from
the room as though I were a tainted thing.  She was right.  I am a
tainted thing.  But my wrongs are my own, and I will bear them alone.  I
must bear them alone.  What have women who have not sinned to do with me,
or I with them?  We do not understand each other.

[_Enter_ HESTER _behind_.]

GERALD.  I implore you to do what I ask you.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  What son has ever asked of his mother to make so hideous
a sacrifice?  None.

GERALD.  What mother has ever refused to marry the father of her own
child?  None.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Let me be the first, then.  I will not do it.

GERALD.  Mother, you believe in religion, and you brought me up to
believe in it also.  Well, surely your religion, the religion that you
taught me when I was a boy, mother, must tell you that I am right.  You
know it, you feel it.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I do not know it.  I do not feel it, nor will I ever
stand before God’s altar and ask God’s blessing on so hideous a mockery
as a marriage between me and George Harford.  I will not say the words
the Church bids us to say.  I will not say them.  I dare not.  How could
I swear to love the man I loathe, to honour him who wrought you
dishonour, to obey him who, in his mastery, made me to sin?  No: marriage
is a sacrament for those who love each other.  It is not for such as him,
or such as me.  Gerald, to save you from the world’s sneers and taunts I
have lied to the world.  For twenty years I have lied to the world.  I
could not tell the world the truth.  Who can, ever?  But not for my own
sake will I lie to God, and in God’s presence.  No, Gerald, no ceremony,
Church-hallowed or State-made, shall ever bind me to George Harford.  It
may be that I am too bound to him already, who, robbing me, yet left me
richer, so that in the mire of my life I found the pearl of price, or
what I thought would be so.

GERALD.  I don’t understand you now.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Men don’t understand what mothers are.  I am no
different from other women except in the wrong done me and the wrong I
did, and my very heavy punishments and great disgrace.  And yet, to bear
you I had to look on death.  To nurture you I had to wrestle with it.
Death fought with me for you.  All women have to fight with death to keep
their children.  Death, being childless, wants our children from us.
Gerald, when you were naked I clothed you, when you were hungry I gave
you food.  Night and day all that long winter I tended you.  No office is
too mean, no care too lowly for the thing we women love—and oh! how _I_
loved _you_.  Not Hannah, Samuel more.  And you needed love, for you were
weakly, and only love could have kept you alive.  Only love can keep any
one alive.  And boys are careless often and without thinking give pain,
and we always fancy that when they come to man’s estate and know us
better they will repay us.  But it is not so.  The world draws them from
our side, and they make friends with whom they are happier than they are
with us, and have amusements from which we are barred, and interests that
are not ours: and they are unjust to us often, for when they find life
bitter they blame us for it, and when they find it sweet we do not taste
its sweetness with them . . . You made many friends and went into their
houses and were glad with them, and I, knowing my secret, did not dare to
follow, but stayed at home and closed the door, shut out the sun and sat
in darkness.  What should I have done in honest households?  My past was
ever with me. . . . And you thought I didn’t care for the pleasant things
of life.  I tell you I longed for them, but did not dare to touch them,
feeling I had no right.  You thought I was happier working amongst the
poor.  That was my mission, you imagined.  It was not, but where else was
I to go?  The sick do not ask if the hand that smooths their pillow is
pure, nor the dying care if the lips that touch their brow have known the
kiss of sin.  It was you I thought of all the time; I gave to them the
love you did not need: lavished on them a love that was not theirs . . .
And you thought I spent too much of my time in going to Church, and in
Church duties.  But where else could I turn?  God’s house is the only
house where sinners are made welcome, and you were always in my heart,
Gerald, too much in my heart.  For, though day after day, at morn or
evensong, I have knelt in God’s house, I have never repented of my sin.
How could I repent of my sin when you, my love, were its fruit!  Even now
that you are bitter to me I cannot repent.  I do not.  You are more to me
than innocence.  I would rather be your mother—oh! much rather!—than have
been always pure . . . Oh, don’t you see? don’t you understand?  It is my
dishonour that has made you so dear to me.  It is my disgrace that has
bound you so closely to me.  It is the price I paid for you—the price of
soul and body—that makes me love you as I do.  Oh, don’t ask me to do
this horrible thing.  Child of my shame, be still the child of my shame!

GERALD.  Mother, I didn’t know you loved me so much as that.  And I will
be a better son to you than I have been.  And you and I must never leave
each other . . . but, mother . . . I can’t help it . . . you must become
my father’s wife.  You must marry him.  It is your duty.

HESTER.  [_Running forwards and embracing_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]  No, no; you
shall not.  That would be real dishonour, the first you have ever known.
That would be real disgrace: the first to touch you.  Leave him and come
with me.  There are other countries than England . . . Oh! other
countries over sea, better, wiser, and less unjust lands.  The world is
very wide and very big.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  No, not for me.  For me the world is shrivelled to a
palm’s breadth, and where I walk there are thorns.

HESTER.  It shall not be so.  We shall somewhere find green valleys and
fresh waters, and if we weep, well, we shall weep together.  Have we not
both loved him?

GERALD.  Hester!

HESTER.  [_Waving him back_.]  Don’t, don’t!  You cannot love me at all,
unless you love her also.  You cannot honour me, unless she’s holier to
you.  In her all womanhood is martyred.  Not she alone, but all of us are
stricken in her house.

GERALD.  Hester, Hester, what shall I do?

HESTER.  Do you respect the man who is your father?

GERALD.  Respect him?  I despise him!  He is infamous.

HESTER.  I thank you for saving me from him last night.

GERALD.  Ah, that is nothing.  I would die to save you.  But you don’t
tell me what to do now!

HESTER.  Have I not thanked you for saving _me_?

GERALD.  But what should I do?

HESTER.  Ask your own heart, not mine.  I never had a mother to save, or
shame.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He is hard—he is hard.  Let me go away.

GERALD.  [_Rushes over and kneels down bedside his mother_.]  Mother,
forgive me: I have been to blame.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Don’t kiss my hands: they are cold.  My heart is cold:
something has broken it.

HESTER.  Ah, don’t say that.  Hearts live by being wounded.  Pleasure may
turn a heart to stone, riches may make it callous, but sorrow—oh, sorrow
cannot break it.  Besides, what sorrows have you now?  Why, at this
moment you are more dear to him than ever, _dear_ though you have _been_,
and oh! how dear you _have_ been always.  Ah! be kind to him.

GERALD.  You are my mother and my father all in one.  I need no second
parent.  It was for you I spoke, for you alone.  Oh, say something,
mother.  Have I but found one love to lose another?  Don’t tell me that.
O mother, you are cruel.  [_Gets up and flings himself sobbing on a
sofa_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_To_ HESTER.]  But has he found indeed another love?

HESTER.  You know I have loved him always.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  But we are very poor.

HESTER.  Who, being loved, is poor?  Oh, no one.  I hate my riches.  They
are a burden.  Let him share it with me.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  But we are disgraced.  We rank among the outcasts Gerald
is nameless.  The sins of the parents should be visited on the children.
It is God’s law.

HESTER.  I was wrong.  God’s law is only Love.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_Rises_, _and taking_ HESTER _by the hand_, _goes
slowly over to where_ GERALD _is lying on the sofa with his head buried
in his hands_.  _She touches him and he looks up_.]  Gerald, I cannot
give you a father, but I have brought you a wife.

GERALD.  Mother, I am not worthy either of her or you.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  So she comes first, you are worthy.  And when you are
away, Gerald . . . with . . . her—oh, think of me sometimes.  Don’t
forget me.  And when you pray, pray for me.  We should pray when we are
happiest, and you will be happy, Gerald.

HESTER.  Oh, you don’t think of leaving us?

GERALD.  Mother, you won’t leave us?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I might bring shame upon you!

GERALD.  Mother!

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  For a little then: and if you let me, near you always.

HESTER.  [_To_ MRS. ARBUTHNOT.]  Come out with us to the garden.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Later on, later on.  [_Exeunt_ HESTER _and_ GERALD.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT _goes towards door_ L.C.   _Stops at looking-glass over
mantelpiece and looks into it_.  _Enter_ ALICE R.C.]

ALICE.  A gentleman to see you, ma’am.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Say I am not at home.  Show me the card.  [_Takes card
from salver and looks at it_.]  Say I will not see him.

[LORD ILLINGWORTH _enters_.  MRS. ARBUTHNOT _sees him in the glass and
starts_, _but does not turn round_.  _Exit_ ALICE.]  What can you have to
say to me to-day, George Harford?  You can have nothing to say to me.
You must leave this house.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Rachel, Gerald knows everything about you and me now,
so some arrangement must be come to that will suit us all three.  I
assure you, he will find in me the most charming and generous of fathers.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  My son may come in at any moment.  I saved you last
night.  I may not be able to save you again.  My son feels my dishonour
strongly, terribly strongly.  I beg you to go.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  [_Sitting down_.]  Last night was excessively
unfortunate.  That silly Puritan girl making a scene merely because I
wanted to kiss her.  What harm is there in a kiss?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_Turning round_.]  A kiss may ruin a human life, George
Harford.  _I_ know that.  _I_ know that too well.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  We won’t discuss that at present.  What is of
importance to-day, as yesterday, is still our son.  I am extremely fond
of him, as you know, and odd though it may seem to you, I admired his
conduct last night immensely.  He took up the cudgels for that pretty
prude with wonderful promptitude.  He is just what I should have liked a
son of mine to be.  Except that no son of mine should ever take the side
of the Puritans: that is always an error.  Now, what I propose is this.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Lord Illingworth, no proposition of yours interests me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  According to our ridiculous English laws, I can’t
legitimise Gerald.  But I can leave him my property.  Illingworth is
entailed, of course, but it is a tedious barrack of a place.  He can have
Ashby, which is much prettier, Harborough, which has the best shooting in
the north of England, and the house in St. James Square.  What more can a
gentleman require in this world?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Nothing more, I am quite sure.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  As for a title, a title is really rather a nuisance in
these democratic days.  As George Harford I had everything I wanted.  Now
I have merely everything that other people want, which isn’t nearly so
pleasant.  Well, my proposal is this.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I told you I was not interested, and I beg you to go.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  The boy is to be with you for six months in the year,
and with me for the other six.  That is perfectly fair, is it not?  You
can have whatever allowance you like, and live where you choose.  As for
your past, no one knows anything about it except myself and Gerald.
There is the Puritan, of course, the Puritan in white muslin, but she
doesn’t count.  She couldn’t tell the story without explaining that she
objected to being kissed, could she?  And all the women would think her a
fool and the men think her a bore.  And you need not be afraid that
Gerald won’t be my heir.  I needn’t tell you I have not the slightest
intention of marrying.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  You come too late.  My son has no need of you.  You are
not necessary.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What do you mean, Rachel?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  That you are not necessary to Gerald’s career.  He does
not require you.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I do not understand you.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Look into the garden.  [LORD ILLINGWORTH _rises and goes
towards window_.]  You had better not let them see you: you bring
unpleasant memories.  [LORD ILLINGWORTH _looks out and starts_.]  She
loves him.  They love each other.  We are safe from you, and we are going
away.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Where?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  We will not tell you, and if you find us we will not
know you.  You seem surprised.  What welcome would you get from the girl
whose lips you tried to soil, from the boy whose life you have shamed,
from the mother whose dishonour comes from you?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You have grown hard, Rachel.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I was too weak once.  It is well for me that I have
changed.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I was very young at the time.  We men know life too
early.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  And we women know life too late.  That is the difference
between men and women.  [_A pause_.]

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Rachel, I want my son.  My money may be of no use to
him now.  I may be of no use to him, but I want my son.  Bring us
together, Rachel.  You can do it if you choose.  [_Sees letter on
table_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  There is no room in my boy’s life for you.  He is not
interested in _you_.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Then why does he write to me?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  What do you mean?

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What letter is this?  [_Takes up letter_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  That—is nothing.  Give it to me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is addressed to _me_.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  You are not to open it.  I forbid you to open it.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  And in Gerald’s handwriting.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It was not to have been sent.  It is a letter he wrote
to you this morning, before he saw me.  But he is sorry now he wrote it,
very sorry.  You are not to open it.  Give it to me.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It belongs to me.  [_Opens it_, _sits down and reads
it slowly_. MRS. ARBUTHNOT _watches him all the time_.]  You have read
this letter, I suppose, Rachel?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  No.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  You know what is in it?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Yes!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I don’t admit for a moment that the boy is right in
what he says.  I don’t admit that it is any duty of mine to marry you.  I
deny it entirely.  But to get my son back I am ready—yes, I am ready to
marry you, Rachel—and to treat you always with the deference and respect
due to my wife.  I will marry you as soon as you choose.  I give you my
word of honour.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  You made that promise to me once before and broke it.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I will keep it now.  And that will show you that I
love my son, at least as much as you love him.  For when I marry you,
Rachel, there are some ambitions I shall have to surrender.  High
ambitions, too, if any ambition is high.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I decline to marry you, Lord Illingworth.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Are you serious?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Yes.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Do tell me your reasons.  They would interest me
enormously.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  I have already explained them to my son.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I suppose they were intensely sentimental, weren’t
they?  You women live by your emotions and for them.  You have no
philosophy of life.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  You are right.  We women live by our emotions and for
them.  By our passions, and for them, if you will.  I have two passions,
Lord Illingworth: my love of him, my hate of you.  You cannot kill those.
They feed each other.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What sort of love is that which needs to have hate as
its brother?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It is the sort of love I have for Gerald.  Do you think
that terrible?  Well it is terrible.  All love is terrible.  All love is
a tragedy.  I loved you once, Lord Illingworth.  Oh, what a tragedy for a
woman to have loved you!

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  So you really refuse to marry me?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Yes.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  Because you hate me?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Yes.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  And does my son hate me as you do?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  No.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  I am glad of that, Rachel.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  He merely despises you.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What a pity!  What a pity for him, I mean.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Don’t be deceived, George.  Children begin by loving
their parents.  After a time they judge them.  Rarely if ever do they
forgive them.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  [_Reads letter over again_, _very slowly_.]  May I ask
by what arguments you made the boy who wrote this letter, this beautiful,
passionate letter, believe that you should not marry his father, the
father of your own child?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  It was not I who made him see it.  It was another.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  What _fin-de-siècle_ person?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  The Puritan, Lord Illingworth.  [_A pause_.]

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  [_Winces_, _then rises slowly and goes over to table
where his hat and gloves are_.  MRS. ARBUTHNOT _is standing close to the
table_.  _He picks up one of the gloves, and begins pulling it on_.]
There is not much then for me to do here, Rachel?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  Nothing.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  It is good-bye, is it?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  For ever, I hope, this time, Lord Illingworth.

LORD ILLINGWORTH.  How curious!  At this moment you look exactly as you
looked the night you left me twenty years ago.  You have just the same
expression in your mouth.  Upon my word, Rachel, no woman ever loved me
as you did.  Why, you gave yourself to me like a flower, to do anything I
liked with.  You were the prettiest of playthings, the most fascinating
of small romances . . . [_Pulls out watch_.]  Quarter to two!  Must be
strolling back to Hunstanton.  Don’t suppose I shall see you there again.
I’m sorry, I am, really.  It’s been an amusing experience to have met
amongst people of one’s own rank, and treated quite seriously too, one’s
mistress, and one’s—

[MRS. ARBUTHNOT _snatches up glove and strikes_ LORD ILLINGWORTH _across
the face with it_.  LORD ILLINGWORTH _starts_.  _He is dazed by the
insult of his punishment_.  _Then he controls himself_, _and goes to
window and looks out at his son_.  _Sighs and leaves the room_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_Falls sobbing on the sofa_.]  He would have said it.
He would have said it.

[_Enter_ GERALD _and_ HESTER _from the garden_.]

GERALD.  Well, dear mother.  You never came out after all.  So we have
come in to fetch you.  Mother, you have not been crying?  [_Kneels down
beside her_.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  My boy!  My boy!  My boy!  [_Running her fingers through
his hair_.]

HESTER.  [_Coming over_.]  But you have two children now.  You’ll let me
be your daughter?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_Looking up_.]  Would you choose me for a mother?

HESTER.  You of all women I have ever known.

[_They move towards the door leading into garden with their arms round
each other’s waists_.  GERALD _goes to table_ L.C. _for his hat_.  _On
turning round he sees_ LORD ILLINGWORTH’S _glove lying on the floor_,
_and picks it up_.]

GERALD.  Hallo, mother, whose glove is this?  You have had a visitor.
Who was it?

MRS. ARBUTHNOT.  [_Turning round_.]  Oh! no one.  No one in particular.
A man of no importance.

                                 CURTAIN





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