Transcribed from the 1912 Methuen and Co. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
AN IDEAL HUSBAND
BY OSCAR WILDE
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METHUEN & CO. LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
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First Published, at 1s. net, in 1912
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This book was First Published in 1893
First Published (Second Edition) by February 1908 Methuen & Co. Third Edition October 1909 Fourth edition October 1910 Fifth Edition May 1912
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
THE EARL OF CAVERSHAM, K.G.
VISCOUNT GORING, his Son
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, Bart., Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
VICOMTE DE NANJAC, Attache at the French Embassy in London
MASON, Butler to Sir Robert Chiltern
PHIPPS, Lord Goring's Servant
HAROLD } Footmen
THE COUNTESS OF BASILDON
MISS MABEL CHILTERN, Sir Robert Chiltern's Sister
THE SCENES OF THE PLAY
ACT I. The Octagon Room in Sir Robert Chiltern's House in Grosvenor Square.
ACT II. Morning-room in Sir Robert Chiltern's House.
ACT III. The Library of Lord Goring's House in Curzon Street.
ACT IV. Same as Act II.
TIME: The Present
The action of the play is completed within twenty-four hours.
THEATRE ROYAL, HAYMARKET
Sole Lessee: Mr. Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Managers: Mr. Lewis Waller and Mr. H. H. Morell
January 3rd, 1895
THE EARL OF CAVERSHAM Mr. Alfred Bishop. VISCOUNT GORING Mr. Charles H. Hawtrey. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN Mr. Lewis Waller. VICOMTE DE NANJAC Mr. Cosmo Stuart. MR. MONTFORD Mr. Harry Stanford. PHIPPS Mr. C. H. Brookfield. MASON Mr. H. Deane. JAMES Mr. Charles Meyrick. HAROLD Mr. Goodhart. LADY CHILTERN Miss Julia Neilson. LADY MARKBY Miss Fanny Brough. COUNTESS OF BASILDON Miss Vane Featherston. MRS. MARCHMONT Miss Helen Forsyth. MISS MABEL CHILTERN Miss Maud Millet. MRS. CHEVELEY Miss Florence West.
The octagon room at Sir Robert Chiltern's house in Grosvenor Square.
[The room is brilliantly lighted and full of guests. At the top of the staircase stands LADY CHILTERN, a woman of grave Greek beauty, about twenty-seven years of age. She receives the guests as they come up. Over the well of the staircase hangs a great chandelier with wax lights, which illumine a large eighteenth-century French tapestry—representing the Triumph of Love, from a design by Boucher—that is stretched on the staircase wall. On the right is the entrance to the music-room. The sound of a string quartette is faintly heard. The entrance on the left leads to other reception-rooms. MRS. MARCHMONT and LADY BASILDON, two very pretty women, are seated together on a Louis Seize sofa. They are types of exquisite fragility. Their affectation of manner has a delicate charm. Watteau would have loved to paint them.]
MRS. MARCHMONT. Going on to the Hartlocks' to-night, Margaret?
LADY BASILDON. I suppose so. Are you?
MRS. MARCHMONT. Yes. Horribly tedious parties they give, don't they?
LADY BASILDON. Horribly tedious! Never know why I go. Never know why I go anywhere.
MRS. MARCHMONT. I come here to be educated.
LADY BASILDON. Ah! I hate being educated!
MRS. MARCHMONT. So do I. It puts one almost on a level with the commercial classes, doesn't it? But dear Gertrude Chiltern is always telling me that I should have some serious purpose in life. So I come here to try to find one.
LADY BASILDON. [Looking round through her lorgnette.] I don't see anybody here to-night whom one could possibly call a serious purpose. The man who took me in to dinner talked to me about his wife the whole time.
MRS. MARCHMONT. How very trivial of him!
LADY BASILDON. Terribly trivial! What did your man talk about?
MRS. MARCHMONT. About myself.
LADY BASILDON. [Languidly.] And were you interested?
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Shaking her head.] Not in the smallest degree.
LADY BASILDON. What martyrs we are, dear Margaret!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Rising.] And how well it becomes us, Olivia!
[They rise and go towards the music-room. The VICOMTE DE NANJAC, a young attache known for his neckties and his Anglomania, approaches with a low bow, and enters into conversation.]
MASON. [Announcing guests from the top of the staircase.] Mr. and Lady Jane Barford. Lord Caversham.
[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM, an old gentleman of seventy, wearing the riband and star of the Garter. A fine Whig type. Rather like a portrait by Lawrence.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Good evening, Lady Chiltern! Has my good-for-nothing young son been here?
LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] I don't think Lord Goring has arrived yet.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Coming up to LORD CAVERSHAM.] Why do you call Lord Goring good-for-nothing?
[MABEL CHILTERN is a perfect example of the English type of prettiness, the apple-blossom type. She has all the fragrance and freedom of a flower. There is ripple after ripple of sunlight in her hair, and the little mouth, with its parted lips, is expectant, like the mouth of a child. She has the fascinating tyranny of youth, and the astonishing courage of innocence. To sane people she is not reminiscent of any work of art. But she is really like a Tanagra statuette, and would be rather annoyed if she were told so.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Because he leads such an idle life.
MABEL CHILTERN. How can you say such a thing? Why, he rides in the Row at ten o'clock in the morning, goes to the Opera three times a week, changes his clothes at least five times a day, and dines out every night of the season. You don't call that leading an idle life, do you?
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Looking at her with a kindly twinkle in his eyes.] You are a very charming young lady!
MABEL CHILTERN. How sweet of you to say that, Lord Caversham! Do come to us more often. You know we are always at home on Wednesdays, and you look so well with your star!
LORD CAVERSHAM. Never go anywhere now. Sick of London Society. Shouldn't mind being introduced to my own tailor; he always votes on the right side. But object strongly to being sent down to dinner with my wife's milliner. Never could stand Lady Caversham's bonnets.
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Hum! Which is Goring? Beautiful idiot, or the other thing?
MABEL CHILTERN. [Gravely.] I have been obliged for the present to put Lord Goring into a class quite by himself. But he is developing charmingly!
LORD CAVERSHAM. Into what?
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a little curtsey.] I hope to let you know very soon, Lord Caversham!
MASON. [Announcing guests.] Lady Markby. Mrs. Cheveley.
[Enter LADY MARKBY and MRS. CHEVELEY. LADY MARKBY is a pleasant, kindly, popular woman, with gray hair a la marquise and good lace. MRS. CHEVELEY, who accompanies her, is tall and rather slight. Lips very thin and highly-coloured, a line of scarlet on a pallid face. Venetian red hair, aquiline nose, and long throat. Rouge accentuates the natural paleness of her complexion. Gray-green eyes that move restlessly. She is in heliotrope, with diamonds. She looks rather like an orchid, and makes great demands on one's curiosity. In all her movements she is extremely graceful. A work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools.]
LADY MARKBY. Good evening, dear Gertrude! So kind of you to let me bring my friend, Mrs. Cheveley. Two such charming women should know each other!
LADY CHILTERN. [Advances towards MRS. CHEVELEY with a sweet smile. Then suddenly stops, and bows rather distantly.] I think Mrs. Cheveley and I have met before. I did not know she had married a second time.
LADY MARKBY. [Genially.] Ah, nowadays people marry as often as they can, don't they? It is most fashionable. [To DUCHESS OF MARYBOROUGH.] Dear Duchess, and how is the Duke? Brain still weak, I suppose? Well, that is only to be expected, is it not? His good father was just the same. There is nothing like race, is there?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Playing with her fan.] But have we really met before, Lady Chiltern? I can't remember where. I have been out of England for so long.
LADY CHILTERN. We were at school together, Mrs. Cheveley.
MRS. CHEVELEY [Superciliously.] Indeed? I have forgotten all about my schooldays. I have a vague impression that they were detestable.
LADY CHILTERN. [Coldly.] I am not surprised!
MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her sweetest manner.] Do you know, I am quite looking forward to meeting your clever husband, Lady Chiltern. Since he has been at the Foreign Office, he has been so much talked of in Vienna. They actually succeed in spelling his name right in the newspapers. That in itself is fame, on the continent.
LADY CHILTERN. I hardly think there will be much in common between you and my husband, Mrs. Cheveley! [Moves away.]
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Ah! chere Madame, queue surprise! I have not seen you since Berlin!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Not since Berlin, Vicomte. Five years ago!
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. And you are younger and more beautiful than ever. How do you manage it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. By making it a rule only to talk to perfectly charming people like yourself.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Ah! you flatter me. You butter me, as they say here.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Do they say that here? How dreadful of them!
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Yes, they have a wonderful language. It should be more widely known.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN enters. A man of forty, but looking somewhat younger. Clean-shaven, with finely-cut features, dark-haired and dark-eyed. A personality of mark. Not popular—few personalities are. But intensely admired by the few, and deeply respected by the many. The note of his manner is that of perfect distinction, with a slight touch of pride. One feels that he is conscious of the success he has made in life. A nervous temperament, with a tired look. The firmly-chiselled mouth and chin contrast strikingly with the romantic expression in the deep-set eyes. The variance is suggestive of an almost complete separation of passion and intellect, as though thought and emotion were each isolated in its own sphere through some violence of will-power. There is nervousness in the nostrils, and in the pale, thin, pointed hands. It would be inaccurate to call him picturesque. Picturesqueness cannot survive the House of Commons. But Vandyck would have liked to have painted his head.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Good evening, Lady Markby! I hope you have brought Sir John with you?
LADY MARKBY. Oh! I have brought a much more charming person than Sir John. Sir John's temper since he has taken seriously to politics has become quite unbearable. Really, now that the House of Commons is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I hope not, Lady Markby. At any rate we do our best to waste the public time, don't we? But who is this charming person you have been kind enough to bring to us?
LADY MARKBY. Her name is Mrs. Cheveley! One of the Dorsetshire Cheveleys, I suppose. But I really don't know. Families are so mixed nowadays. Indeed, as a rule, everybody turns out to be somebody else.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley? I seem to know the name.
LADY MARKBY. She has just arrived from Vienna.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! yes. I think I know whom you mean.
LADY MARKBY. Oh! she goes everywhere there, and has such pleasant scandals about all her friends. I really must go to Vienna next winter. I hope there is a good chef at the Embassy.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. If there is not, the Ambassador will certainly have to be recalled. Pray point out Mrs. Cheveley to me. I should like to see her.
LADY MARKBY. Let me introduce you. [To MRS. CHEVELEY.] My dear, Sir Robert Chiltern is dying to know you!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bowing.] Every one is dying to know the brilliant Mrs. Cheveley. Our attaches at Vienna write to us about nothing else.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you, Sir Robert. An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship. It starts in the right manner. And I find that I know Lady Chiltern already.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Really?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. She has just reminded me that we were at school together. I remember it perfectly now. She always got the good conduct prize. I have a distinct recollection of Lady Chiltern always getting the good conduct prize!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Smiling.] And what prizes did you get, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. My prizes came a little later on in life. I don't think any of them were for good conduct. I forget!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am sure they were for something charming!
MRS. CHEVELEY. I don't know that women are always rewarded for being charming. I think they are usually punished for it! Certainly, more women grow old nowadays through the faithfulness of their admirers than through anything else! At least that is the only way I can account for the terribly haggard look of most of your pretty women in London!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What an appalling philosophy that sounds! To attempt to classify you, Mrs. Cheveley, would be an impertinence. But may I ask, at heart, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Those seem to be the only two fashionable religions left to us nowadays.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I'm neither. Optimism begins in a broad grin, and Pessimism ends with blue spectacles. Besides, they are both of them merely poses.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You prefer to be natural?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. But it is such a very difficult pose to keep up.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What would those modern psychological novelists, of whom we hear so much, say to such a theory as that?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Ah! the strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women . . . merely adored.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You think science cannot grapple with the problem of women?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no future before it, in this world.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And women represent the irrational.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Well-dressed women do.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a polite bow.] I fear I could hardly agree with you there. But do sit down. And now tell me, what makes you leave your brilliant Vienna for our gloomy London—or perhaps the question is indiscreet?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Well, at any rate, may I know if it is politics or pleasure?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Politics are my only pleasure. You see nowadays it is not fashionable to flirt till one is forty, or to be romantic till one is forty-five, so we poor women who are under thirty, or say we are, have nothing open to us but politics or philanthropy. And philanthropy seems to me to have become simply the refuge of people who wish to annoy their fellow-creatures. I prefer politics. I think they are more . . . becoming!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. A political life is a noble career!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. And sometimes it is a clever game, Sir Robert. And sometimes it is a great nuisance.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Which do you find it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. I? A combination of all three. [Drops her fan.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Picks up fan.] Allow me!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But you have not told me yet what makes you honour London so suddenly. Our season is almost over.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! I don't care about the London season! It is too matrimonial. People are either hunting for husbands, or hiding from them. I wanted to meet you. It is quite true. You know what a woman's curiosity is. Almost as great as a man's! I wanted immensely to meet you, and . . . to ask you to do something for me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I hope it is not a little thing, Mrs. Cheveley. I find that little things are so very difficult to do.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a moment's reflection.] No, I don't think it is quite a little thing.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am so glad. Do tell me what it is.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Later on. [Rises.] And now may I walk through your beautiful house? I hear your pictures are charming. Poor Baron Arnheim—you remember the Baron?—used to tell me you had some wonderful Corots.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With an almost imperceptible start.] Did you know Baron Arnheim well?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Smiling.] Intimately. Did you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. At one time.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Wonderful man, wasn't he?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] He was very remarkable, in many ways.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I often think it such a pity he never wrote his memoirs. They would have been most interesting.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes: he knew men and cities well, like the old Greek.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Without the dreadful disadvantage of having a Penelope waiting at home for him.
MASON. Lord Goring.
[Enter LORD GORING. Thirty-four, but always says he is younger. A well-bred, expressionless face. He is clever, but would not like to be thought so. A flawless dandy, he would be annoyed if he were considered romantic. He plays with life, and is on perfectly good terms with the world. He is fond of being misunderstood. It gives him a post of vantage.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Good evening, my dear Arthur! Mrs. Cheveley, allow me to introduce to you Lord Goring, the idlest man in London.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I have met Lord Goring before.
LORD GORING. [Bowing.] I did not think you would remember me, Mrs. Cheveley.
MRS. CHEVELEY. My memory is under admirable control. And are you still a bachelor?
LORD GORING. I . . . believe so.
MRS. CHEVELEY. How very romantic!
LORD GORING. Oh! I am not at all romantic. I am not old enough. I leave romance to my seniors.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Lord Goring is the result of Boodle's Club, Mrs. Cheveley.
MRS. CHEVELEY. He reflects every credit on the institution.
LORD GORING. May I ask are you staying in London long?
MRS. CHEVELEY. That depends partly on the weather, partly on the cooking, and partly on Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You are not going to plunge us into a European war, I hope?
MRS. CHEVELEY. There is no danger, at present!
[She nods to LORD GORING, with a look of amusement in her eyes, and goes out with SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. LORD GORING saunters over to MABEL CHILTERN.]
MABEL CHILTERN. You are very late!
LORD GORING. Have you missed me?
MABEL CHILTERN. Awfully!
LORD GORING. Then I am sorry I did not stay away longer. I like being missed.
MABEL CHILTERN. How very selfish of you!
LORD GORING. I am very selfish.
MABEL CHILTERN. You are always telling me of your bad qualities, Lord Goring.
LORD GORING. I have only told you half of them as yet, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. Are the others very bad?
LORD GORING. Quite dreadful! When I think of them at night I go to sleep at once.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, I delight in your bad qualities. I wouldn't have you part with one of them.
LORD GORING. How very nice of you! But then you are always nice. By the way, I want to ask you a question, Miss Mabel. Who brought Mrs. Cheveley here? That woman in heliotrope, who has just gone out of the room with your brother?
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh, I think Lady Markby brought her. Why do you ask?
LORD GORING. I haven't seen her for years, that is all.
MABEL CHILTERN. What an absurd reason!
LORD GORING. All reasons are absurd.
MABEL CHILTERN. What sort of a woman is she?
LORD GORING. Oh! a genius in the daytime and a beauty at night!
MABEL CHILTERN. I dislike her already.
LORD GORING. That shows your admirable good taste.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. [Approaching.] Ah, the English young lady is the dragon of good taste, is she not? Quite the dragon of good taste.
LORD GORING. So the newspapers are always telling us.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I read all your English newspapers. I find them so amusing.
LORD GORING. Then, my dear Nanjac, you must certainly read between the lines.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I should like to, but my professor objects. [To MABEL CHILTERN.] May I have the pleasure of escorting you to the music-room, Mademoiselle?
MABEL CHILTERN. [Looking very disappointed.] Delighted, Vicomte, quite delighted! [Turning to LORD GORING.] Aren't you coming to the music-room?
LORD GORING. Not if there is any music going on, Miss Mabel.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Severely.] The music is in German. You would not understand it.
[Goes out with the VICOMTE DE NANJAC. LORD CAVERSHAM comes up to his son.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir! what are you doing here? Wasting your life as usual! You should be in bed, sir. You keep too late hours! I heard of you the other night at Lady Rufford's dancing till four o'clock in the morning!
LORD GORING. Only a quarter to four, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Can't make out how you stand London Society. The thing has gone to the dogs, a lot of damned nobodies talking about nothing.
LORD GORING. I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.
LORD GORING. What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages like happiness.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You are heartless, sir, very heartless!
LORD GORING. I hope not, father. Good evening, Lady Basildon!
LADY BASILDON. [Arching two pretty eyebrows.] Are you here? I had no idea you ever came to political parties!
LORD GORING. I adore political parties. They are the only place left to us where people don't talk politics.
LADY BASILDON. I delight in talking politics. I talk them all day long. But I can't bear listening to them. I don't know how the unfortunate men in the House stand these long debates.
LORD GORING. By never listening.
LADY BASILDON. Really?
LORD GORING. [In his most serious manner.] Of course. You see, it is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.
LADY BASILDON. Ah! that accounts for so much in men that I have never understood, and so much in women that their husbands never appreciate in them!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [With a sigh.] Our husbands never appreciate anything in us. We have to go to others for that!
LADY BASILDON. [Emphatically.] Yes, always to others, have we not?
LORD GORING. [Smiling.] And those are the views of the two ladies who are known to have the most admirable husbands in London.
MRS. MARCHMONT. That is exactly what we can't stand. My Reginald is quite hopelessly faultless. He is really unendurably so, at times! There is not the smallest element of excitement in knowing him.
LORD GORING. How terrible! Really, the thing should be more widely known!
LADY BASILDON. Basildon is quite as bad; he is as domestic as if he was a bachelor.
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Pressing LADY BASILDON'S hand.] My poor Olivia! We have married perfect husbands, and we are well punished for it.
LORD GORING. I should have thought it was the husbands who were punished.
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Drawing herself up.] Oh, dear no! They are as happy as possible! And as for trusting us, it is tragic how much they trust us.
LADY BASILDON. Perfectly tragic!
LORD GORING. Or comic, Lady Basildon?
LADY BASILDON. Certainly not comic, Lord Goring. How unkind of you to suggest such a thing!
MRS. MARCHMONT. I am afraid Lord Goring is in the camp of the enemy, as usual. I saw him talking to that Mrs. Cheveley when he came in.
LORD GORING. Handsome woman, Mrs. Cheveley!
LADY BASILDON. [Stiffly.] Please don't praise other women in our presence. You might wait for us to do that!
LORD GORING. I did wait.
MRS. MARCHMONT. Well, we are not going to praise her. I hear she went to the Opera on Monday night, and told Tommy Rufford at supper that, as far as she could see, London Society was entirely made up of dowdies and dandies.
LORD GORING. She is quite right, too. The men are all dowdies and the women are all dandies, aren't they?
MRS. MARCHMONT. [After a pause.] Oh! do you really think that is what Mrs. Cheveley meant?
LORD GORING. Of course. And a very sensible remark for Mrs. Cheveley to make, too.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN. She joins the group.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Why are you talking about Mrs. Cheveley? Everybody is talking about Mrs. Cheveley! Lord Goring says—what did you say, Lord Goring, about Mrs. Cheveley? Oh! I remember, that she was a genius in the daytime and a beauty at night.
LADY BASILDON. What a horrid combination! So very unnatural!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [In her most dreamy manner.] I like looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.
LORD GORING. Ah! that is morbid of you, Mrs. Marchmont!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Brightening to a look of real pleasure.] I am so glad to hear you say that. Marchmont and I have been married for seven years, and he has never once told me that I was morbid. Men are so painfully unobservant!
LADY BASILDON. [Turning to her.] I have always said, dear Margaret, that you were the most morbid person in London.
MRS. MARCHMONT. Ah! but you are always sympathetic, Olivia!
MABEL CHILTERN. Is it morbid to have a desire for food? I have a great desire for food. Lord Goring, will you give me some supper?
LORD GORING. With pleasure, Miss Mabel. [Moves away with her.]
MABEL CHILTERN. How horrid you have been! You have never talked to me the whole evening!
LORD GORING. How could I? You went away with the child-diplomatist.
MABEL CHILTERN. You might have followed us. Pursuit would have been only polite. I don't think I like you at all this evening!
LORD GORING. I like you immensely.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, I wish you'd show it in a more marked way! [They go downstairs.]
MRS. MARCHMONT. Olivia, I have a curious feeling of absolute faintness. I think I should like some supper very much. I know I should like some supper.
LADY BASILDON. I am positively dying for supper, Margaret!
MRS. MARCHMONT. Men are so horribly selfish, they never think of these things.
LADY BASILDON. Men are grossly material, grossly material!
[The VICOMTE DE NANJAC enters from the music-room with some other guests. After having carefully examined all the people present, he approaches LADY BASILDON.]
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. May I have the honour of taking you down to supper, Comtesse?
LADY BASILDON. [Coldly.] I never take supper, thank you, Vicomte. [The VICOMTE is about to retire. LADY BASILDON, seeing this, rises at once and takes his arm.] But I will come down with you with pleasure.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I am so fond of eating! I am very English in all my tastes.
LADY BASILDON. You look quite English, Vicomte, quite English.
[They pass out. MR. MONTFORD, a perfectly groomed young dandy, approaches MRS. MARCHMONT.]
MR. MONTFORD. Like some supper, Mrs. Marchmont?
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Languidly.] Thank you, Mr. Montford, I never touch supper. [Rises hastily and takes his arm.] But I will sit beside you, and watch you.
MR. MONTFORD. I don't know that I like being watched when I am eating!
MRS. MARCHMONT. Then I will watch some one else.
MR. MONTFORD. I don't know that I should like that either.
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Severely.] Pray, Mr. Montford, do not make these painful scenes of jealousy in public!
[They go downstairs with the other guests, passing SIR ROBERT CHILTERN and MRS. CHEVELEY, who now enter.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And are you going to any of our country houses before you leave England, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! I can't stand your English house-parties. In England people actually try to be brilliant at breakfast. That is so dreadful of them! Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast. And then the family skeleton is always reading family prayers. My stay in England really depends on you, Sir Robert. [Sits down on the sofa.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Taking a seat beside her.] Seriously?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Quite seriously. I want to talk to you about a great political and financial scheme, about this Argentine Canal Company, in fact.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What a tedious, practical subject for you to talk about, Mrs. Cheveley!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I like tedious, practical subjects. What I don't like are tedious, practical people. There is a wide difference. Besides, you are interested, I know, in International Canal schemes. You were Lord Radley's secretary, weren't you, when the Government bought the Suez Canal shares?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes. But the Suez Canal was a very great and splendid undertaking. It gave us our direct route to India. It had imperial value. It was necessary that we should have control. This Argentine scheme is a commonplace Stock Exchange swindle.
MRS. CHEVELEY. A speculation, Sir Robert! A brilliant, daring speculation.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Believe me, Mrs. Cheveley, it is a swindle. Let us call things by their proper names. It makes matters simpler. We have all the information about it at the Foreign Office. In fact, I sent out a special Commission to inquire into the matter privately, and they report that the works are hardly begun, and as for the money already subscribed, no one seems to know what has become of it. The whole thing is a second Panama, and with not a quarter of the chance of success that miserable affair ever had. I hope you have not invested in it. I am sure you are far too clever to have done that.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I have invested very largely in it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Who could have advised you to do such a foolish thing?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Your old friend—and mine.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Who?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Baron Arnheim.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Frowning.] Ah! yes. I remember hearing, at the time of his death, that he had been mixed up in the whole affair.
MRS. CHEVELEY. It was his last romance. His last but one, to do him justice.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rising.] But you have not seen my Corots yet. They are in the music-room. Corots seem to go with music, don't they? May I show them to you?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shaking her head.] I am not in a mood to-night for silver twilights, or rose-pink dawns. I want to talk business. [Motions to him with her fan to sit down again beside her.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I fear I have no advice to give you, Mrs. Cheveley, except to interest yourself in something less dangerous. The success of the Canal depends, of course, on the attitude of England, and I am going to lay the report of the Commissioners before the House to-morrow night.
MRS. CHEVELEY. That you must not do. In your own interests, Sir Robert, to say nothing of mine, you must not do that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking at her in wonder.] In my own interests? My dear Mrs. Cheveley, what do you mean? [Sits down beside her.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Sir Robert, I will be quite frank with you. I want you to withdraw the report that you had intended to lay before the House, on the ground that you have reasons to believe that the Commissioners have been prejudiced or misinformed, or something. Then I want you to say a few words to the effect that the Government is going to reconsider the question, and that you have reason to believe that the Canal, if completed, will be of great international value. You know the sort of things ministers say in cases of this kind. A few ordinary platitudes will do. In modern life nothing produces such an effect as a good platitude. It makes the whole world kin. Will you do that for me?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley, you cannot be serious in making me such a proposition!
MRS. CHEVELEY. I am quite serious.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Coldly.] Pray allow me to believe that you are not.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Speaking with great deliberation and emphasis.] Ah! but I am. And if you do what I ask you, I . . . will pay you very handsomely!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Pay me!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am afraid I don't quite understand what you mean.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Leaning back on the sofa and looking at him.] How very disappointing! And I have come all the way from Vienna in order that you should thoroughly understand me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I fear I don't.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her most nonchalant manner.] My dear Sir Robert, you are a man of the world, and you have your price, I suppose. Everybody has nowadays. The drawback is that most people are so dreadfully expensive. I know I am. I hope you will be more reasonable in your terms.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rises indignantly.] If you will allow me, I will call your carriage for you. You have lived so long abroad, Mrs. Cheveley, that you seem to be unable to realise that you are talking to an English gentleman.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Detains him by touching his arm with her fan, and keeping it there while she is talking.] I realise that I am talking to a man who laid the foundation of his fortune by selling to a Stock Exchange speculator a Cabinet secret.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Biting his lip.] What do you mean?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Rising and facing him.] I mean that I know the real origin of your wealth and your career, and I have got your letter, too.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What letter?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Contemptuously.] The letter you wrote to Baron Arnheim, when you were Lord Radley's secretary, telling the Baron to buy Suez Canal shares—a letter written three days before the Government announced its own purchase.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Hoarsely.] It is not true.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You thought that letter had been destroyed. How foolish of you! It is in my possession.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. The affair to which you allude was no more than a speculation. The House of Commons had not yet passed the bill; it might have been rejected.
MRS. CHEVELEY. It was a swindle, Sir Robert. Let us call things by their proper names. It makes everything simpler. And now I am going to sell you that letter, and the price I ask for it is your public support of the Argentine scheme. You made your own fortune out of one canal. You must help me and my friends to make our fortunes out of another!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is infamous, what you propose—infamous!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! This is the game of life as we all have to play it, Sir Robert, sooner or later!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I cannot do what you ask me.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You mean you cannot help doing it. You know you are standing on the edge of a precipice. And it is not for you to make terms. It is for you to accept them. Supposing you refuse—
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What then?
MRS. CHEVELEY. My dear Sir Robert, what then? You are ruined, that is all! Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbours. In fact, to be a bit better than one's neighbour was considered excessively vulgar and middle-class. Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues—and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins—one after the other. Not a year passes in England without somebody disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest, to a man—now they crush him. And yours is a very nasty scandal. You couldn't survive it. If it were known that as a young man, secretary to a great and important minister, you sold a Cabinet secret for a large sum of money, and that that was the origin of your wealth and career, you would be hounded out of public life, you would disappear completely. And after all, Sir Robert, why should you sacrifice your entire future rather than deal diplomatically with your enemy? For the moment I am your enemy. I admit it! And I am much stronger than you are. The big battalions are on my side. You have a splendid position, but it is your splendid position that makes you so vulnerable. You can't defend it! And I am in attack. Of course I have not talked morality to you. You must admit in fairness that I have spared you that. Years ago you did a clever, unscrupulous thing; it turned out a great success. You owe to it your fortune and position. And now you have got to pay for it. Sooner or later we have all to pay for what we do. You have to pay now. Before I leave you to-night, you have got to promise me to suppress your report, and to speak in the House in favour of this scheme.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What you ask is impossible.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You must make it possible. You are going to make it possible. Sir Robert, you know what your English newspapers are like. Suppose that when I leave this house I drive down to some newspaper office, and give them this scandal and the proofs of it! Think of their loathsome joy, of the delight they would have in dragging you down, of the mud and mire they would plunge you in. Think of the hypocrite with his greasy smile penning his leading article, and arranging the foulness of the public placard.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Stop! You want me to withdraw the report and to make a short speech stating that I believe there are possibilities in the scheme?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Sitting down on the sofa.] Those are my terms.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [In a low voice.] I will give you any sum of money you want.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I will not do what you ask me. I will not.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You have to. If you don't . . . [Rises from the sofa.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bewildered and unnerved.] Wait a moment! What did you propose? You said that you would give me back my letter, didn't you?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. That is agreed. I will be in the Ladies' Gallery to-morrow night at half-past eleven. If by that time—and you will have had heaps of opportunity—you have made an announcement to the House in the terms I wish, I shall hand you back your letter with the prettiest thanks, and the best, or at any rate the most suitable, compliment I can think of. I intend to play quite fairly with you. One should always play fairly . . . when one has the winning cards. The Baron taught me that . . . amongst other things.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You must let me have time to consider your proposal.
MRS. CHEVELEY. No; you must settle now!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Give me a week—three days!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Impossible! I have got to telegraph to Vienna to-night.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My God! what brought you into my life?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Circumstances. [Moves towards the door.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Don't go. I consent. The report shall be withdrawn. I will arrange for a question to be put to me on the subject.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. I knew we should come to an amicable agreement. I understood your nature from the first. I analysed you, though you did not adore me. And now you can get my carriage for me, Sir Robert. I see the people coming up from supper, and Englishmen always get romantic after a meal, and that bores me dreadfully. [Exit SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
[Enter Guests, LADY CHILTERN, LADY MARKBY, LORD CAVERSHAM, LADY BASILDON, MRS. MARCHMONT, VICOMTE DE NANJAC, MR. MONTFORD.]
LADY MARKBY. Well, dear Mrs. Cheveley, I hope you have enjoyed yourself. Sir Robert is very entertaining, is he not?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Most entertaining! I have enjoyed my talk with him immensely.
LADY MARKBY. He has had a very interesting and brilliant career. And he has married a most admirable wife. Lady Chiltern is a woman of the very highest principles, I am glad to say. I am a little too old now, myself, to trouble about setting a good example, but I always admire people who do. And Lady Chiltern has a very ennobling effect on life, though her dinner-parties are rather dull sometimes. But one can't have everything, can one? And now I must go, dear. Shall I call for you to-morrow?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks.
LADY MARKBY. We might drive in the Park at five. Everything looks so fresh in the Park now!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Except the people!
LADY MARKBY. Perhaps the people are a little jaded. I have often observed that the Season as it goes on produces a kind of softening of the brain. However, I think anything is better than high intellectual pressure. That is the most unbecoming thing there is. It makes the noses of the young girls so particularly large. And there is nothing so difficult to marry as a large nose; men don't like them. Good-night, dear! [To LADY CHILTERN.] Good-night, Gertrude! [Goes out on LORD CAVERSHAM'S arm.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. What a charming house you have, Lady Chiltern! I have spent a delightful evening. It has been so interesting getting to know your husband.
LADY CHILTERN. Why did you wish to meet my husband, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I will tell you. I wanted to interest him in this Argentine Canal scheme, of which I dare say you have heard. And I found him most susceptible,—susceptible to reason, I mean. A rare thing in a man. I converted him in ten minutes. He is going to make a speech in the House to-morrow night in favour of the idea. We must go to the Ladies' Gallery and hear him! It will be a great occasion!
LADY CHILTERN. There must be some mistake. That scheme could never have my husband's support.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I assure you it's all settled. I don't regret my tedious journey from Vienna now. It has been a great success. But, of course, for the next twenty-four hours the whole thing is a dead secret.
LADY CHILTERN. [Gently.] A secret? Between whom?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a flash of amusement in her eyes.] Between your husband and myself.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Entering.] Your carriage is here, Mrs. Cheveley!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks! Good evening, Lady Chiltern! Good-night, Lord Goring! I am at Claridge's. Don't you think you might leave a card?
LORD GORING. If you wish it, Mrs. Cheveley!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, don't be so solemn about it, or I shall be obliged to leave a card on you. In England I suppose that would hardly be considered en regle. Abroad, we are more civilised. Will you see me down, Sir Robert? Now that we have both the same interests at heart we shall be great friends, I hope!
[Sails out on SIR ROBERT CHILTERN'S arm. LADY CHILTERN goes to the top of the staircase and looks down at them as they descend. Her expression is troubled. After a little time she is joined by some of the guests, and passes with them into another reception-room.]
MABEL CHILTERN. What a horrid woman!
LORD GORING. You should go to bed, Miss Mabel.
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. My father told me to go to bed an hour ago. I don't see why I shouldn't give you the same advice. I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, you are always ordering me out of the room. I think it most courageous of you. Especially as I am not going to bed for hours. [Goes over to the sofa.] You can come and sit down if you like, and talk about anything in the world, except the Royal Academy, Mrs. Cheveley, or novels in Scotch dialect. They are not improving subjects. [Catches sight of something that is lying on the sofa half hidden by the cushion.] What is this? Some one has dropped a diamond brooch! Quite beautiful, isn't it? [Shows it to him.] I wish it was mine, but Gertrude won't let me wear anything but pearls, and I am thoroughly sick of pearls. They make one look so plain, so good and so intellectual. I wonder whom the brooch belongs to.
LORD GORING. I wonder who dropped it.
MABEL CHILTERN. It is a beautiful brooch.
LORD GORING. It is a handsome bracelet.
MABEL CHILTERN. It isn't a bracelet. It's a brooch.
LORD GORING. It can be used as a bracelet. [Takes it from her, and, pulling out a green letter-case, puts the ornament carefully in it, and replaces the whole thing in his breast-pocket with the most perfect sang froid.]
MABEL CHILTERN. What are you doing?
LORD GORING. Miss Mabel, I am going to make a rather strange request to you.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Eagerly.] Oh, pray do! I have been waiting for it all the evening.
LORD GORING. [Is a little taken aback, but recovers himself.] Don't mention to anybody that I have taken charge of this brooch. Should any one write and claim it, let me know at once.
MABEL CHILTERN. That is a strange request.
LORD GORING. Well, you see I gave this brooch to somebody once, years ago.
MABEL CHILTERN. You did?
LORD GORING. Yes.
[LADY CHILTERN enters alone. The other guests have gone.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Then I shall certainly bid you good-night. Good-night, Gertrude! [Exit.]
LADY CHILTERN. Good-night, dear! [To LORD GORING.] You saw whom Lady Markby brought here to-night?
LORD GORING. Yes. It was an unpleasant surprise. What did she come here for?
LADY CHILTERN. Apparently to try and lure Robert to uphold some fraudulent scheme in which she is interested. The Argentine Canal, in fact.
LORD GORING. She has mistaken her man, hasn't she?
LADY CHILTERN. She is incapable of understanding an upright nature like my husband's!
LORD GORING. Yes. I should fancy she came to grief if she tried to get Robert into her toils. It is extraordinary what astounding mistakes clever women make.
LADY CHILTERN. I don't call women of that kind clever. I call them stupid!
LORD GORING. Same thing often. Good-night, Lady Chiltern!
LADY CHILTERN. Good-night!
[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My dear Arthur, you are not going? Do stop a little!
LORD GORING. Afraid I can't, thanks. I have promised to look in at the Hartlocks'. I believe they have got a mauve Hungarian band that plays mauve Hungarian music. See you soon. Good-bye!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. How beautiful you look to-night, Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, it is not true, is it? You are not going to lend your support to this Argentine speculation? You couldn't!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Starting.] Who told you I intended to do so?
LADY CHILTERN. That woman who has just gone out, Mrs. Cheveley, as she calls herself now. She seemed to taunt me with it. Robert, I know this woman. You don't. We were at school together. She was untruthful, dishonest, an evil influence on every one whose trust or friendship she could win. I hated, I despised her. She stole things, she was a thief. She was sent away for being a thief. Why do you let her influence you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, what you tell me may be true, but it happened many years ago. It is best forgotten! Mrs. Cheveley may have changed since then. No one should be entirely judged by their past.
LADY CHILTERN. [Sadly.] One's past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That is a hard saying, Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. It is a true saying, Robert. And what did she mean by boasting that she had got you to lend your support, your name, to a thing I have heard you describe as the most dishonest and fraudulent scheme there has ever been in political life?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Biting his lip.] I was mistaken in the view I took. We all may make mistakes.
LADY CHILTERN. But you told me yesterday that you had received the report from the Commission, and that it entirely condemned the whole thing.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Walking up and down.] I have reasons now to believe that the Commission was prejudiced, or, at any rate, misinformed. Besides, Gertrude, public and private life are different things. They have different laws, and move on different lines.
LADY CHILTERN. They should both represent man at his highest. I see no difference between them.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Stopping.] In the present case, on a matter of practical politics, I have changed my mind. That is all.
LADY CHILTERN. All!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sternly.] Yes!
LADY CHILTERN. Robert! Oh! it is horrible that I should have to ask you such a question—Robert, are you telling me the whole truth?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Why do you ask me such a question?
LADY CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Why do you not answer it?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sitting down.] Gertrude, truth is a very complex thing, and politics is a very complex business. There are wheels within wheels. One may be under certain obligations to people that one must pay. Sooner or later in political life one has to compromise. Every one does.
LADY CHILTERN. Compromise? Robert, why do you talk so differently to-night from the way I have always heard you talk? Why are you changed?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am not changed. But circumstances alter things.
LADY CHILTERN. Circumstances should never alter principles!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But if I told you—
LADY CHILTERN. What?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That it was necessary, vitally necessary?
LADY CHILTERN. It can never be necessary to do what is not honourable. Or if it be necessary, then what is it that I have loved! But it is not, Robert; tell me it is not. Why should it be? What gain would you get? Money? We have no need of that! And money that comes from a tainted source is a degradation. Power? But power is nothing in itself. It is power to do good that is fine—that, and that only. What is it, then? Robert, tell me why you are going to do this dishonourable thing!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, you have no right to use that word. I told you it was a question of rational compromise. It is no more than that.
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, that is all very well for other men, for men who treat life simply as a sordid speculation; but not for you, Robert, not for you. You are different. All your life you have stood apart from others. You have never let the world soil you. To the world, as to myself, you have been an ideal always. Oh! be that ideal still. That great inheritance throw not away—that tower of ivory do not destroy. Robert, men can love what is beneath them—things unworthy, stained, dishonoured. We women worship when we love; and when we lose our worship, we lose everything. Oh! don't kill my love for you, don't kill that!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. I know that there are men with horrible secrets in their lives—men who have done some shameful thing, and who in some critical moment have to pay for it, by doing some other act of shame—oh! don't tell me you are such as they are! Robert, is there in your life any secret dishonour or disgrace? Tell me, tell me at once, that—
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That what?
LADY CHILTERN. [Speaking very slowly.] That our lives may drift apart.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Drift apart?
LADY CHILTERN. That they may be entirely separate. It would be better for us both.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, there is nothing in my past life that you might not know.
LADY CHILTERN. I was sure of it, Robert, I was sure of it. But why did you say those dreadful things, things so unlike your real self? Don't let us ever talk about the subject again. You will write, won't you, to Mrs. Cheveley, and tell her that you cannot support this scandalous scheme of hers? If you have given her any promise you must take it back, that is all!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Must I write and tell her that?
LADY CHILTERN. Surely, Robert! What else is there to do?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I might see her personally. It would be better.
LADY CHILTERN. You must never see her again, Robert. She is not a woman you should ever speak to. She is not worthy to talk to a man like you. No; you must write to her at once, now, this moment, and let your letter show her that your decision is quite irrevocable!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Write this moment!
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But it is so late. It is close on twelve.
LADY CHILTERN. That makes no matter. She must know at once that she has been mistaken in you—and that you are not a man to do anything base or underhand or dishonourable. Write here, Robert. Write that you decline to support this scheme of hers, as you hold it to be a dishonest scheme. Yes—write the word dishonest. She knows what that word means. [SIR ROBERT CHILTERN sits down and writes a letter. His wife takes it up and reads it.] Yes; that will do. [Rings bell.] And now the envelope. [He writes the envelope slowly. Enter MASON.] Have this letter sent at once to Claridge's Hotel. There is no answer. [Exit MASON. LADY CHILTERN kneels down beside her husband, and puts her arms around him.] Robert, love gives one an instinct to things. I feel to-night that I have saved you from something that might have been a danger to you, from something that might have made men honour you less than they do. I don't think you realise sufficiently, Robert, that you have brought into the political life of our time a nobler atmosphere, a finer attitude towards life, a freer air of purer aims and higher ideals—I know it, and for that I love you, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh, love me always, Gertrude, love me always!
LADY CHILTERN. I will love you always, because you will always be worthy of love. We needs must love the highest when we see it! [Kisses him and rises and goes out.]
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN walks up and down for a moment; then sits down and buries his face in his hands. The Servant enters and begins pulling out the lights. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN looks up.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Put out the lights, Mason, put out the lights!
[The Servant puts out the lights. The room becomes almost dark. The only light there is comes from the great chandelier that hangs over the staircase and illumines the tapestry of the Triumph of Love.]
Morning-room at Sir Robert Chiltern's house.
[LORD GORING, dressed in the height of fashion, is lounging in an armchair. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN is standing in front of the fireplace. He is evidently in a state of great mental excitement and distress. As the scene progresses he paces nervously up and down the room.]
LORD GORING. My dear Robert, it's a very awkward business, very awkward indeed. You should have told your wife the whole thing. Secrets from other people's wives are a necessary luxury in modern life. So, at least, I am always told at the club by people who are bald enough to know better. But no man should have a secret from his own wife. She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, I couldn't tell my wife. When could I have told her? Not last night. It would have made a life-long separation between us, and I would have lost the love of the one woman in the world I worship, of the only woman who has ever stirred love within me. Last night it would have been quite impossible. She would have turned from me in horror . . . in horror and in contempt.
LORD GORING. Is Lady Chiltern as perfect as all that?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes; my wife is as perfect as all that.
LORD GORING. [Taking off his left-hand glove.] What a pity! I beg your pardon, my dear fellow, I didn't quite mean that. But if what you tell me is true, I should like to have a serious talk about life with Lady Chiltern.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It would be quite useless.
LORD GORING. May I try?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes; but nothing could make her alter her views.
LORD GORING. Well, at the worst it would simply be a psychological experiment.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. All such experiments are terribly dangerous.
LORD GORING. Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn't so, life wouldn't be worth living. . . . Well, I am bound to say that I think you should have told her years ago.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When? When we were engaged? Do you think she would have married me if she had known that the origin of my fortune is such as it is, the basis of my career such as it is, and that I had done a thing that I suppose most men would call shameful and dishonourable?
LORD GORING. [Slowly.] Yes; most men would call it ugly names. There is no doubt of that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bitterly.] Men who every day do something of the same kind themselves. Men who, each one of them, have worse secrets in their own lives.
LORD GORING. That is the reason they are so pleased to find out other people's secrets. It distracts public attention from their own.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And, after all, whom did I wrong by what I did? No one.
LORD GORING. [Looking at him steadily.] Except yourself, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Of course I had private information about a certain transaction contemplated by the Government of the day, and I acted on it. Private information is practically the source of every large modern fortune.
LORD GORING. [Tapping his boot with his cane.] And public scandal invariably the result.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Pacing up and down the room.] Arthur, do you think that what I did nearly eighteen years ago should be brought up against me now? Do you think it fair that a man's whole career should be ruined for a fault done in one's boyhood almost? I was twenty-two at the time, and I had the double misfortune of being well-born and poor, two unforgiveable things nowadays. Is it fair that the folly, the sin of one's youth, if men choose to call it a sin, should wreck a life like mine, should place me in the pillory, should shatter all that I have worked for, all that I have built up. Is it fair, Arthur?
LORD GORING. Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Every man of ambition has to fight his century with its own weapons. What this century worships is wealth. The God of this century is wealth. To succeed one must have wealth. At all costs one must have wealth.
LORD GORING. You underrate yourself, Robert. Believe me, without wealth you could have succeeded just as well.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When I was old, perhaps. When I had lost my passion for power, or could not use it. When I was tired, worn out, disappointed. I wanted my success when I was young. Youth is the time for success. I couldn't wait.
LORD GORING. Well, you certainly have had your success while you are still young. No one in our day has had such a brilliant success. Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the age of forty—that's good enough for any one, I should think.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And if it is all taken away from me now? If I lose everything over a horrible scandal? If I am hounded from public life?
LORD GORING. Robert, how could you have sold yourself for money?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Excitedly.] I did not sell myself for money. I bought success at a great price. That is all.
LORD GORING. [Gravely.] Yes; you certainly paid a great price for it. But what first made you think of doing such a thing?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Baron Arnheim.
LORD GORING. Damned scoundrel!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; he was a man of a most subtle and refined intellect. A man of culture, charm, and distinction. One of the most intellectual men I ever met.
LORD GORING. Ah! I prefer a gentlemanly fool any day. There is more to be said for stupidity than people imagine. Personally I have a great admiration for stupidity. It is a sort of fellow-feeling, I suppose. But how did he do it? Tell me the whole thing.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Throws himself into an armchair by the writing-table.] One night after dinner at Lord Radley's the Baron began talking about success in modern life as something that one could reduce to an absolutely definite science. With that wonderfully fascinating quiet voice of his he expounded to us the most terrible of all philosophies, the philosophy of power, preached to us the most marvellous of all gospels, the gospel of gold. I think he saw the effect he had produced on me, for some days afterwards he wrote and asked me to come and see him. He was living then in Park Lane, in the house Lord Woolcomb has now. I remember so well how, with a strange smile on his pale, curved lips, he led me through his wonderful picture gallery, showed me his tapestries, his enamels, his jewels, his carved ivories, made me wonder at the strange loveliness of the luxury in which he lived; and then told me that luxury was nothing but a background, a painted scene in a play, and that power, power over other men, power over the world, was the one thing worth having, the one supreme pleasure worth knowing, the one joy one never tired of, and that in our century only the rich possessed it.
LORD GORING. [With great deliberation.] A thoroughly shallow creed.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rising.] I didn't think so then. I don't think so now. Wealth has given me enormous power. It gave me at the very outset of my life freedom, and freedom is everything. You have never been poor, and never known what ambition is. You cannot understand what a wonderful chance the Baron gave me. Such a chance as few men get.
LORD GORING. Fortunately for them, if one is to judge by results. But tell me definitely, how did the Baron finally persuade you to—well, to do what you did?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When I was going away he said to me that if I ever could give him any private information of real value he would make me a very rich man. I was dazed at the prospect he held out to me, and my ambition and my desire for power were at that time boundless. Six weeks later certain private documents passed through my hands.
LORD GORING. [Keeping his eyes steadily fixed on the carpet.] State documents?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes. [LORD GORING sighs, then passes his hand across his forehead and looks up.]
LORD GORING. I had no idea that you, of all men in the world, could have been so weak, Robert, as to yield to such a temptation as Baron Arnheim held out to you.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Weak? Oh, I am sick of hearing that phrase. Sick of using it about others. Weak? Do you really think, Arthur, that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one's life on a single moment, to risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure, I care not—there is no weakness in that. There is a horrible, a terrible courage. I had that courage. I sat down the same afternoon and wrote Baron Arnheim the letter this woman now holds. He made three-quarters of a million over the transaction.
LORD GORING. And you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I received from the Baron 110,000 pounds.
LORD GORING. You were worth more, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; that money gave me exactly what I wanted, power over others. I went into the House immediately. The Baron advised me in finance from time to time. Before five years I had almost trebled my fortune. Since then everything that I have touched has turned out a success. In all things connected with money I have had a luck so extraordinary that sometimes it has made me almost afraid. I remember having read somewhere, in some strange book, that when the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.
LORD GORING. But tell me, Robert, did you never suffer any regret for what you had done?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No. I felt that I had fought the century with its own weapons, and won.
LORD GORING. [Sadly.] You thought you had won.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I thought so. [After a long pause.] Arthur, do you despise me for what I have told you?
LORD GORING. [With deep feeling in his voice.] I am very sorry for you, Robert, very sorry indeed.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I don't say that I suffered any remorse. I didn't. Not remorse in the ordinary, rather silly sense of the word. But I have paid conscience money many times. I had a wild hope that I might disarm destiny. The sum Baron Arnheim gave me I have distributed twice over in public charities since then.
LORD GORING. [Looking up.] In public charities? Dear me! what a lot of harm you must have done, Robert!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh, don't say that, Arthur; don't talk like that!
LORD GORING. Never mind what I say, Robert! I am always saying what I shouldn't say. In fact, I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood. As regards this dreadful business, I will help you in whatever way I can. Of course you know that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you, Arthur, thank you. But what is to be done? What can be done?
LORD GORING. [Leaning back with his hands in his pockets.] Well, the English can't stand a man who is always saying he is in the right, but they are very fond of a man who admits that he has been in the wrong. It is one of the best things in them. However, in your case, Robert, a confession would not do. The money, if you will allow me to say so, is . . . awkward. Besides, if you did make a clean breast of the whole affair, you would never be able to talk morality again. And in England a man who can't talk morality twice a week to a large, popular, immoral audience is quite over as a serious politician. There would be nothing left for him as a profession except Botany or the Church. A confession would be of no use. It would ruin you.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It would ruin me. Arthur, the only thing for me to do now is to fight the thing out.
LORD GORING. [Rising from his chair.] I was waiting for you to say that, Robert. It is the only thing to do now. And you must begin by telling your wife the whole story.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That I will not do.
LORD GORING. Robert, believe me, you are wrong.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I couldn't do it. It would kill her love for me. And now about this woman, this Mrs. Cheveley. How can I defend myself against her? You knew her before, Arthur, apparently.
LORD GORING. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Did you know her well?
LORD GORING. [Arranging his necktie.] So little that I got engaged to be married to her once, when I was staying at the Tenbys'. The affair lasted for three days . . . nearly.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Why was it broken off?
LORD GORING. [Airily.] Oh, I forget. At least, it makes no matter. By the way, have you tried her with money? She used to be confoundedly fond of money.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I offered her any sum she wanted. She refused.
LORD GORING. Then the marvellous gospel of gold breaks down sometimes. The rich can't do everything, after all.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Not everything. I suppose you are right. Arthur, I feel that public disgrace is in store for me. I feel certain of it. I never knew what terror was before. I know it now. It is as if a hand of ice were laid upon one's heart. It is as if one's heart were beating itself to death in some empty hollow.
LORD GORING. [Striking the table.] Robert, you must fight her. You must fight her.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But how?
LORD GORING. I can't tell you how at present. I have not the smallest idea. But every one has some weak point. There is some flaw in each one of us. [Strolls to the fireplace and looks at himself in the glass.] My father tells me that even I have faults. Perhaps I have. I don't know.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. In defending myself against Mrs. Cheveley, I have a right to use any weapon I can find, have I not?
LORD GORING. [Still looking in the glass.] In your place I don't think I should have the smallest scruple in doing so. She is thoroughly well able to take care of herself.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sits down at the table and takes a pen in his hand.] Well, I shall send a cipher telegram to the Embassy at Vienna, to inquire if there is anything known against her. There may be some secret scandal she might be afraid of.
LORD GORING. [Settling his buttonhole.] Oh, I should fancy Mrs. Cheveley is one of those very modern women of our time who find a new scandal as becoming as a new bonnet, and air them both in the Park every afternoon at five-thirty. I am sure she adores scandals, and that the sorrow of her life at present is that she can't manage to have enough of them.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Writing.] Why do you say that?
LORD GORING. [Turning round.] Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not quite enough clothes. That is always a sign of despair in a woman.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Striking a bell.] But it is worth while my wiring to Vienna, is it not?
LORD GORING. It is always worth while asking a question, though it is not always worth while answering one.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Is Mr. Trafford in his room?
MASON. Yes, Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Puts what he has written into an envelope, which he then carefully closes.] Tell him to have this sent off in cipher at once. There must not be a moment's delay.
MASON. Yes, Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! just give that back to me again.
[Writes something on the envelope. MASON then goes out with the letter.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. She must have had some curious hold over Baron Arnheim. I wonder what it was.
LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I wonder.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I will fight her to the death, as long as my wife knows nothing.
LORD GORING. [Strongly.] Oh, fight in any case—in any case.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a gesture of despair.] If my wife found out, there would be little left to fight for. Well, as soon as I hear from Vienna, I shall let you know the result. It is a chance, just a chance, but I believe in it. And as I fought the age with its own weapons, I will fight her with her weapons. It is only fair, and she looks like a woman with a past, doesn't she?
LORD GORING. Most pretty women do. But there is a fashion in pasts just as there is a fashion in frocks. Perhaps Mrs. Cheveley's past is merely a slightly decollete one, and they are excessively popular nowadays. Besides, my dear Robert, I should not build too high hopes on frightening Mrs. Cheveley. I should not fancy Mrs. Cheveley is a woman who would be easily frightened. She has survived all her creditors, and she shows wonderful presence of mind.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! I live on hopes now. I clutch at every chance. I feel like a man on a ship that is sinking. The water is round my feet, and the very air is bitter with storm. Hush! I hear my wife's voice.
[Enter LADY CHILTERN in walking dress.]
LADY CHILTERN. Good afternoon, Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. Good afternoon, Lady Chiltern! Have you been in the Park?
LADY CHILTERN. No; I have just come from the Woman's Liberal Association, where, by the way, Robert, your name was received with loud applause, and now I have come in to have my tea. [To LORD GORING.] You will wait and have some tea, won't you?
LORD GORING. I'll wait for a short time, thanks.
LADY CHILTERN. I will be back in a moment. I am only going to take my hat off.
LORD GORING. [In his most earnest manner.] Oh! please don't. It is so pretty. One of the prettiest hats I ever saw. I hope the Woman's Liberal Association received it with loud applause.
LADY CHILTERN. [With a smile.] We have much more important work to do than look at each other's bonnets, Lord Goring.
LORD GORING. Really? What sort of work?
LADY CHILTERN. Oh! dull, useful, delightful things, Factory Acts, Female Inspectors, the Eight Hours' Bill, the Parliamentary Franchise. . . . Everything, in fact, that you would find thoroughly uninteresting.
LORD GORING. And never bonnets?
LADY CHILTERN. [With mock indignation.] Never bonnets, never!
[LADY CHILTERN goes out through the door leading to her boudoir.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Takes LORD GORING'S hand.] You have been a good friend to me, Arthur, a thoroughly good friend.
LORD GORING. I don't know that I have been able to do much for you, Robert, as yet. In fact, I have not been able to do anything for you, as far as I can see. I am thoroughly disappointed with myself.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You have enabled me to tell you the truth. That is something. The truth has always stifled me.
LORD GORING. Ah! the truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as possible! Bad habit, by the way. Makes one very unpopular at the club . . . with the older members. They call it being conceited. Perhaps it is.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I would to God that I had been able to tell the truth . . . to live the truth. Ah! that is the great thing in life, to live the truth. [Sighs, and goes towards the door.] I'll see you soon again, Arthur, shan't I?
LORD GORING. Certainly. Whenever you like. I'm going to look in at the Bachelors' Ball to-night, unless I find something better to do. But I'll come round to-morrow morning. If you should want me to-night by any chance, send round a note to Curzon Street.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you.
[As he reaches the door, LADY CHILTERN enters from her boudoir.]
LADY CHILTERN. You are not going, Robert?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I have some letters to write, dear.
LADY CHILTERN. [Going to him.] You work too hard, Robert. You seem never to think of yourself, and you are looking so tired.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is nothing, dear, nothing.
[He kisses her and goes out.]
LADY CHILTERN. [To LORD GORING.] Do sit down. I am so glad you have called. I want to talk to you about . . . well, not about bonnets, or the Woman's Liberal Association. You take far too much interest in the first subject, and not nearly enough in the second.
LORD GORING. You want to talk to me about Mrs. Cheveley?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes. You have guessed it. After you left last night I found out that what she had said was really true. Of course I made Robert write her a letter at once, withdrawing his promise.
LORD GORING. So he gave me to understand.
LADY CHILTERN. To have kept it would have been the first stain on a career that has been stainless always. Robert must be above reproach. He is not like other men. He cannot afford to do what other men do. [She looks at LORD GORING, who remains silent.] Don't you agree with me? You are Robert's greatest friend. You are our greatest friend, Lord Goring. No one, except myself, knows Robert better than you do. He has no secrets from me, and I don't think he has any from you.
LORD GORING. He certainly has no secrets from me. At least I don't think so.
LADY CHILTERN. Then am I not right in my estimate of him? I know I am right. But speak to me frankly.
LORD GORING. [Looking straight at her.] Quite frankly?
LADY CHILTERN. Surely. You have nothing to conceal, have you?
LORD GORING. Nothing. But, my dear Lady Chiltern, I think, if you will allow me to say so, that in practical life—
LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] Of which you know so little, Lord Goring—
LORD GORING. Of which I know nothing by experience, though I know something by observation. I think that in practical life there is something about success, actual success, that is a little unscrupulous, something about ambition that is unscrupulous always. Once a man has set his heart and soul on getting to a certain point, if he has to climb the crag, he climbs the crag; if he has to walk in the mire—
LADY CHILTERN. Well?
LORD GORING. He walks in the mire. Of course I am only talking generally about life.
LADY CHILTERN. [Gravely.] I hope so. Why do you look at me so strangely, Lord Goring?
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, I have sometimes thought that . . . perhaps you are a little hard in some of your views on life. I think that . . . often you don't make sufficient allowances. In every nature there are elements of weakness, or worse than weakness. Supposing, for instance, that—that any public man, my father, or Lord Merton, or Robert, say, had, years ago, written some foolish letter to some one . . .
LADY CHILTERN. What do you mean by a foolish letter?
LORD GORING. A letter gravely compromising one's position. I am only putting an imaginary case.
LADY CHILTERN. Robert is as incapable of doing a foolish thing as he is of doing a wrong thing.
LORD GORING. [After a long pause.] Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.
LADY CHILTERN. Are you a Pessimist? What will the other dandies say? They will all have to go into mourning.
LORD GORING. [Rising.] No, Lady Chiltern, I am not a Pessimist. Indeed I am not sure that I quite know what Pessimism really means. All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next. And if you are ever in trouble, Lady Chiltern, trust me absolutely, and I will help you in every way I can. If you ever want me, come to me for my assistance, and you shall have it. Come at once to me.
LADY CHILTERN. [Looking at him in surprise.] Lord Goring, you are talking quite seriously. I don't think I ever heard you talk seriously before.
LORD GORING. [Laughing.] You must excuse me, Lady Chiltern. It won't occur again, if I can help it.
LADY CHILTERN. But I like you to be serious.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN, in the most ravishing frock.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Dear Gertrude, don't say such a dreadful thing to Lord Goring. Seriousness would be very unbecoming to him. Good afternoon Lord Goring! Pray be as trivial as you can.
LORD GORING. I should like to, Miss Mabel, but I am afraid I am . . . a little out of practice this morning; and besides, I have to be going now.
MABEL CHILTERN. Just when I have come in! What dreadful manners you have! I am sure you were very badly brought up.
LORD GORING. I was.
MABEL CHILTERN. I wish I had brought you up!
LORD GORING. I am so sorry you didn't.
MABEL CHILTERN. It is too late now, I suppose?
LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I am not so sure.
MABEL CHILTERN. Will you ride to-morrow morning?
LORD GORING. Yes, at ten.
MABEL CHILTERN. Don't forget.
LORD GORING. Of course I shan't. By the way, Lady Chiltern, there is no list of your guests in The Morning Post of to-day. It has apparently been crowded out by the County Council, or the Lambeth Conference, or something equally boring. Could you let me have a list? I have a particular reason for asking you.
LADY CHILTERN. I am sure Mr. Trafford will be able to give you one.
LORD GORING. Thanks, so much.
MABEL CHILTERN. Tommy is the most useful person in London.
LORD GORING [Turning to her.] And who is the most ornamental?
MABEL CHILTERN [Triumphantly.] I am.
LORD GORING. How clever of you to guess it! [Takes up his hat and cane.] Good-bye, Lady Chiltern! You will remember what I said to you, won't you?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes; but I don't know why you said it to me.
LORD GORING. I hardly know myself. Good-bye, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN [With a little moue of disappointment.] I wish you were not going. I have had four wonderful adventures this morning; four and a half, in fact. You might stop and listen to some of them.
LORD GORING. How very selfish of you to have four and a half! There won't be any left for me.
MABEL CHILTERN. I don't want you to have any. They would not be good for you.
LORD GORING. That is the first unkind thing you have ever said to me. How charmingly you said it! Ten to-morrow.
MABEL CHILTERN. Sharp.
LORD GORING. Quite sharp. But don't bring Mr. Trafford.
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a little toss of the head.] Of course I shan't bring Tommy Trafford. Tommy Trafford is in great disgrace.
LORD GORING. I am delighted to hear it. [Bows and goes out.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Gertrude, I wish you would speak to Tommy Trafford.
LADY CHILTERN. What has poor Mr. Trafford done this time? Robert says he is the best secretary he has ever had.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, Tommy has proposed to me again. Tommy really does nothing but propose to me. He proposed to me last night in the music-room, when I was quite unprotected, as there was an elaborate trio going on. I didn't dare to make the smallest repartee, I need hardly tell you. If I had, it would have stopped the music at once. Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely deaf. Then he proposed to me in broad daylight this morning, in front of that dreadful statue of Achilles. Really, the things that go on in front of that work of art are quite appalling. The police should interfere. At luncheon I saw by the glare in his eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately I don't know what bimetallism means. And I don't believe anybody else does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for ten minutes. He looked quite shocked. And then Tommy is so annoying in the way he proposes. If he proposed at the top of his voice, I should not mind so much. That might produce some effect on the public. But he does it in a horrid confidential way. When Tommy wants to be romantic he talks to one just like a doctor. I am very fond of Tommy, but his methods of proposing are quite out of date. I wish, Gertrude, you would speak to him, and tell him that once a week is quite often enough to propose to any one, and that it should always be done in a manner that attracts some attention.
LADY CHILTERN. Dear Mabel, don't talk like that. Besides, Robert thinks very highly of Mr. Trafford. He believes he has a brilliant future before him.
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I wouldn't marry a man with a future before him for anything under the sun.
LADY CHILTERN. Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. I know, dear. You married a man with a future, didn't you? But then Robert was a genius, and you have a noble, self-sacrificing character. You can stand geniuses. I have no character at all, and Robert is the only genius I could ever bear. As a rule, I think they are quite impossible. Geniuses talk so much, don't they? Such a bad habit! And they are always thinking about themselves, when I want them to be thinking about me. I must go round now and rehearse at Lady Basildon's. You remember, we are having tableaux, don't you? The Triumph of something, I don't know what! I hope it will be triumph of me. Only triumph I am really interested in at present. [Kisses LADY CHILTERN and goes out; then comes running back.] Oh, Gertrude, do you know who is coming to see you? That dreadful Mrs. Cheveley, in a most lovely gown. Did you ask her?
LADY CHILTERN. [Rising.] Mrs. Cheveley! Coming to see me? Impossible!
MABEL CHILTERN. I assure you she is coming upstairs, as large as life and not nearly so natural.
LADY CHILTERN. You need not wait, Mabel. Remember, Lady Basildon is expecting you.
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I must shake hands with Lady Markby. She is delightful. I love being scolded by her.
MASON. Lady Markby. Mrs. Cheveley.
[Enter LADY MARKBY and MRS. CHEVELEY.]
LADY CHILTERN. [Advancing to meet them.] Dear Lady Markby, how nice of you to come and see me! [Shakes hands with her, and bows somewhat distantly to MRS. CHEVELEY.] Won't you sit down, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. Isn't that Miss Chiltern? I should like so much to know her.
LADY CHILTERN. Mabel, Mrs. Cheveley wishes to know you.
[MABEL CHILTERN gives a little nod.]
MRS. CHEVELEY [Sitting down.] I thought your frock so charming last night, Miss Chiltern. So simple and . . . suitable.
MABEL CHILTERN. Really? I must tell my dressmaker. It will be such a surprise to her. Good-bye, Lady Markby!
LADY MARKBY. Going already?
MABEL CHILTERN. I am so sorry but I am obliged to. I am just off to rehearsal. I have got to stand on my head in some tableaux.
LADY MARKBY. On your head, child? Oh! I hope not. I believe it is most unhealthy. [Takes a seat on the sofa next LADY CHILTERN.]
MABEL CHILTERN. But it is for an excellent charity: in aid of the Undeserving, the only people I am really interested in. I am the secretary, and Tommy Trafford is treasurer.
MRS. CHEVELEY. And what is Lord Goring?
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! Lord Goring is president.
MRS. CHEVELEY. The post should suit him admirably, unless he has deteriorated since I knew him first.
LADY MARKBY. [Reflecting.] You are remarkably modern, Mabel. A little too modern, perhaps. Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly. I have known many instances of it.
MABEL CHILTERN. What a dreadful prospect!
LADY MARKBY. Ah! my dear, you need not be nervous. You will always be as pretty as possible. That is the best fashion there is, and the only fashion that England succeeds in setting.
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a curtsey.] Thank you so much, Lady Markby, for England . . . and myself. [Goes out.]
LADY MARKBY. [Turning to LADY CHILTERN.] Dear Gertrude, we just called to know if Mrs. Cheveley's diamond brooch has been found.
LADY CHILTERN. Here?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I missed it when I got back to Claridge's, and I thought I might possibly have dropped it here.
LADY CHILTERN. I have heard nothing about it. But I will send for the butler and ask. [Touches the bell.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, pray don't trouble, Lady Chiltern. I dare say I lost it at the Opera, before we came on here.
LADY MARKBY. Ah yes, I suppose it must have been at the Opera. The fact is, we all scramble and jostle so much nowadays that I wonder we have anything at all left on us at the end of an evening. I know myself that, when I am coming back from the Drawing Room, I always feel as if I hadn't a shred on me, except a small shred of decent reputation, just enough to prevent the lower classes making painful observations through the windows of the carriage. The fact is that our Society is terribly over-populated. Really, some one should arrange a proper scheme of assisted emigration. It would do a great deal of good.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I quite agree with you, Lady Markby. It is nearly six years since I have been in London for the Season, and I must say Society has become dreadfully mixed. One sees the oddest people everywhere.