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Oscar Wilde. A Woman of No Importance Act II The Drawing-room at Hunstanton Chase

 

Act II The Drawing-room at Hunstanton Chase




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 DAUBENY.] 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 DAUBENY 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 DAUBENY.] 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


 

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