An Ideal Husband



AN IDEAL HUSBAND


A PLAY


by

OSCAR WILDE


 

methuen &
co. ltd.


36 essex street w.c.

london


 

First Published, at 1s.
net
, in 1912


 

























This book was First Published in
1893


First Published (Second Edition) by
Methuen & Co.


February


1908


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, Attaché at the French Embassy in
London


MR. MONTFORD


MASON, Butler to Sir Robert Chiltern


PHIPPS, Lord Goring’s Servant


JAMES   }


HAROLD  } Footmen


LADY CHILTERN


LADY MARKBY


THE COUNTESS OF BASILDON


MRS. MARCHMONT


MISS MABEL CHILTERN, Sir Robert Chiltern’s Sister


MRS. CHEVELEY


THE SCENES OF THE PLAY


Act I.  The Octagon Room in
Sir Robert Chiltern’s House in Grosvenor Square
.


Act II.  Morning-room in
Sir Robert Chiltern’s House
.


Act III.  The Library of
Lord Goring’s House in Curzon Street
.


Act IV.  Same as Act
II
.


Time: The Present


Place: London.


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


THEATRE ROYAL, HAYMARKET


Sole Lessee: Mr. Herbert
Beerbohm Tree


Managers: Mr. Lewis
Waller and Mr. H. H. Morell


January 3rd, 1895































































The Earl of Caversham


Mr. Alfred Bishop.


Viscount Goring


Mr. Charles H. Hawtrey.


Sir Robert Chiltern


Mr. Lewis Waller.


Vicomte de Nanjac


Mr. Cosmo Stuart.


Mr. Montford


Mr. Harry Stanford.


Phipps


Mr. C. H. Brookfield.


Mason


Mr. H. Deane.


James


Mr. Charles Meyrick.


Harold


Mr. Goodhart.


Lady Chiltern


Miss Julia Neilson.


Lady Markby


Miss Fanny Brough.


Countess of Basildon


Miss Vane Featherston.


Mrs. Marchmont


Miss Helen Forsyth.


Miss Mabel Chiltern


Miss Maud Millet.


Mrs. Cheveley


Miss Florence West.



FIRST ACT


SCENE


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


[The room is brilliantly lighted and full of
guests
At the top of the staircase stands lady chiltern, a woman of grave Greek
beauty
, about twenty-seven years of ageShe
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 attaché 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 typeRather
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 innocenceTo 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. cheveleylady markby is a pleasant,
kindly, popular woman, with gray hair à
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 throatRouge 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 gracefulA
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!
chère 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
entersA man of forty, but looking
somewhat younger
Clean-shaven, with
finely-cut features
, dark-haired and dark-eyed
A personality of markNot popular—few
personalities are
But intensely admired by the
few
, and deeply respected by the manyThe
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 lookThe
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 attachés 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 faceHe 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 retirelady
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 outmr.
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 règle.  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
armlady chiltern goes to the top of the
staircase and looks down at them as they descend

Her expression is troubledAfter a little time
she is joined by some of the guests
, and passes with them
into another reception-room
.]


mabel chiltern.  What a horrid
woman!


lord goring.  You should go to
bed, Miss Mabel.


mabel chiltern.  Lord
Goring!


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


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


lord goring.  I wonder who
dropped it.


mabel chiltern.  It is a
beautiful brooch.


lord goring.  It is a handsome
bracelet.


mabel chiltern.  It
isn’t a bracelet.  It’s a brooch.


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


mabel chiltern.  What are you
doing?


lord goring.  Miss Mabel, I am
going to make a rather strange request to you.


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


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


mabel chiltern.  That is a
strange request.


lord goring.  Well, you see I
gave this brooch to somebody once, years ago.


mabel chiltern.  You did?


lord goring.  Yes.


[lady chiltern enters
alone
The other guests have gone.]


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


lady chiltern.  Good-night,
dear!  [To lord
goring
.]  You saw whom Lady Markby brought here
to-night?


lord goring.  Yes.  It
was an unpleasant surprise.  What did she come here for?


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


lord goring.  She has mistaken
her man, hasn’t she?


lady chiltern.  She is
incapable of understanding an upright nature like my
husband’s!


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


lady chiltern.  I don’t
call women of that kind clever.  I call them stupid!


lord goring.  Same thing
often.  Good-night, Lady Chiltern!


lady chiltern
Good-night!


[Enter sir robert
chiltern
.]


sir robert chiltern.  My dear
Arthur, you are not going?  Do stop a little!


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


[Exit]


sir robert chiltern.  How
beautiful you look to-night, Gertrude!


lady chiltern.  Robert, it is
not true, is it?  You are not going to lend your support to
this Argentine speculation?  You couldn’t!


sir robert chiltern
[Starting.]  Who told you I intended to do so?


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


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


lady chiltern
[Sadly.]  One’s past is what one is.  It
is the only way by which people should be judged.


sir robert chiltern.  That is
a hard saying, Gertrude!


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


sir robert chiltern
[Biting his lip.]  I was mistaken in the view I
took.  We all may make mistakes.


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


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


lady chiltern.  They should
both represent man at his highest.  I see no difference
between them.


sir robert chiltern
[Stopping.]  In the present case, on a matter of
practical politics, I have changed my mind.  That is
all.


lady chiltern.  All!


sir robert chiltern
[Sternly.]  Yes!


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


sir robert chiltern.  Why do
you ask me such a question?


lady chiltern.  [After a
pause
.]  Why do you not answer it?


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


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


sir robert chiltern.  I am not
changed.  But circumstances alter things.


lady chiltern.  Circumstances
should never alter principles!


sir robert chiltern.  But if I
told you—


lady chiltern.  What?


sir robert chiltern.  That it
was necessary, vitally necessary?


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


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


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


sir robert chiltern
Gertrude!


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


sir robert chiltern.  That
what?


lady chiltern.  [Speaking
very slowly
.]  That our lives may drift apart.


sir robert chiltern.  Drift
apart?


lady chiltern.  That they may
be entirely separate.  It would be better for us both.


sir robert chiltern
Gertrude, there is nothing in my past life that you might not
know.


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


sir robert chiltern.  Must I
write and tell her that?


lady chiltern.  Surely,
Robert!  What else is there to do?


sir robert chiltern.  I might
see her personally.  It would be better.


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


sir robert chiltern.  Write
this moment!


lady chiltern.  Yes.


sir robert chiltern.  But it
is so late.  It is close on twelve.


lady chiltern.  That makes no
matter.  She must know at once that she has been mistaken in
you—and that you are not a man to do anything base or
underhand or dishonourable.  Write here, Robert.  Write
that you decline to support this scheme of hers, as you hold it
to be a dishonest scheme.  Yes—write the word
dishonest.  She knows what that word means.  [sir robert chiltern sits down and writes
a letter
His wife takes it up and reads
it
.]  Yes; that will do.  [Rings
bell
.]  And now the envelope.  [He writes the
envelope slowly
Enter mason.]  Have this letter sent at once
to Claridge’s Hotel.  There is no answer. 
[Exit masonlady 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 lightsThe room
becomes almost dark
The only light there is comes
from the great chandelier that hangs over the staircase and
illumines the tapestry of the Triumph of Love
.]


Act
Drop


SECOND ACT


SCENE


Morning-room at Sir Robert Chiltern’s house.


[lord goring, dressed in the
height of fashion
, is lounging in an armchair
sir robert chiltern is standing in
front of the fireplace
He is evidently in a state
of great mental excitement and distress
As the
scene progresses he paces nervously up and down the
room
.]


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


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


lord goring.  Is Lady Chiltern
as perfect as all that?


sir robert chiltern.  Yes; my
wife is as perfect as all that.


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


sir robert chiltern.  It would
be quite useless.


lord goring.  May I try?


sir robert chiltern.  Yes; but
nothing could make her alter her views.


lord goring.  Well, at the
worst it would simply be a psychological experiment.


sir robert chiltern.  All such
experiments are terribly dangerous.


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


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


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


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


lord goring.  That is the
reason they are so pleased to find out other people’s
secrets.  It distracts public attention from their own.


sir robert chiltern.  And,
after all, whom did I wrong by what I did?  No one.


lord goring.  [Looking at
him steadily
.]  Except yourself, Robert.


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


lord goring.  [Tapping his
boot with his cane
.]  And public scandal invariably the
result.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


lord goring.  Robert, how
could you have sold yourself for money?


sir robert chiltern
[Excitedly.]  I did not sell myself for money. 
I bought success at a great price.  That is all.


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


sir robert chiltern.  Baron
Arnheim.


lord goring.  Damned
scoundrel!


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


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


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


lord goring.  [With great
deliberation
.]  A thoroughly shallow creed.


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


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


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


lord goring.  [Keeping his
eyes steadily fixed on the carpet
.]  State
documents?


sir robert chiltern
Yes.  [lord goring sighs,
then passes his hand across his forehead and looks
up
.]


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


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


lord goring.  And you?


sir robert chiltern.  I
received from the Baron £110,000.


lord goring.  You were worth
more, Robert.


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


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


sir robert chiltern
No.  I felt that I had fought the century with its own
weapons, and won.


lord goring
[Sadly.]  You thought you had won.


sir robert chiltern.  I
thought so.  [After a long pause.]  Arthur, do
you despise me for what I have told you?


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


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


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


sir robert chiltern.  Oh,
don’t say that, Arthur; don’t talk like that!


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


sir robert chiltern.  Thank
you, Arthur, thank you.  But what is to be done?  What
can be done?


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


sir robert chiltern.  It would
ruin me.  Arthur, the only thing for me to do now is to
fight the thing out.


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


sir robert chiltern.  That I
will not do.


lord goring.  Robert, believe
me, you are wrong.


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


lord goring.  Yes.


sir robert chiltern.  Did you
know her well?


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


sir robert chiltern.  Why was
it broken off?


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


sir robert chiltern.  I
offered her any sum she wanted.  She refused.


lord goring.  Then the
marvellous gospel of gold breaks down sometimes.  The rich
can’t do everything, after all.


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


lord goring.  [Striking the
table
.]  Robert, you must fight her.  You must
fight her.


sir robert chiltern.  But
how?


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


sir robert chiltern.  In
defending myself against Mrs. Cheveley, I have a right to use any
weapon I can find, have I not?


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


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


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


sir robert chiltern
[Writing.]  Why do you say that?


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


sir robert chiltern
[Striking a bell.]  But it is worth while my wiring
to Vienna, is it not?


lord goring.  It is always
worth while asking a question, though it is not always worth
while answering one.


[Enter mason.]


sir robert chiltern.  Is Mr.
Trafford in his room?


mason.  Yes, Sir Robert.


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


mason.  Yes, Sir Robert.


sir robert chiltern.  Oh! just
give that back to me again.


[Writes something on the envelopemason 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 décolleté 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.


[Enter mason.]


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.


lady markby.  That is quite
true, dear.  But one needn’t know them. 
I’m sure I don’t know half the people who come to my
house.  Indeed, from all I hear, I shouldn’t like
to.


[Enter mason.]


lady chiltern.  What sort of a
brooch was it that you lost, Mrs. Cheveley?


mrs. cheveley.  A diamond
snake-brooch with a ruby, a rather large ruby.


lady markby.  I thought you
said there was a sapphire on the head, dear?


mrs. cheveley
[Smiling.]  No, lady Markby—a ruby.


lady markby.  [Nodding her
head
.]  And very becoming, I am quite sure.


lady chiltern.  Has a ruby and
diamond brooch been found in any of the rooms this morning,
Mason?


mason.  No, my lady.


mrs. cheveley.  It really is
of no consequence, Lady Chiltern.  I am so sorry to have put
you to any inconvenience.


lady chiltern
[Coldly.]  Oh, it has been no inconvenience. 
That will do, Mason.  You can bring tea.


[Exit mason.]


lady markby.  Well, I must say
it is most annoying to lose anything.  I remember once at
Bath, years ago, losing in the Pump Room an exceedingly handsome
cameo bracelet that Sir John had given me.  I don’t
think he has ever given me anything since, I am sorry to
say.  He has sadly degenerated.  Really, this horrid
House of Commons quite ruins our husbands for us.  I think
the Lower House by far the greatest blow to a happy married life
that there has been since that terrible thing called the Higher
Education of Women was invented.


lady chiltern.  Ah! it is
heresy to say that in this house, Lady Markby.  Robert is a
great champion of the Higher Education of Women, and so, I am
afraid, am I.


mrs. cheveley.  The higher
education of men is what I should like to see.  Men need it
so sadly.


lady markby.  They do,
dear.  But I am afraid such a scheme would be quite
unpractical.  I don’t think man has much capacity for
development.  He has got as far as he can, and that is not
far, is it?  With regard to women, well, dear Gertrude, you
belong to the younger generation, and I am sure it is all right
if you approve of it.  In my time, of course, we were taught
not to understand anything.  That was the old system, and
wonderfully interesting it was.  I assure you that the
amount of things I and my poor dear sister were taught not to
understand was quite extraordinary.  But modern women
understand everything, I am told.


mrs. cheveley.  Except their
husbands.  That is the one thing the modern woman never
understands.


lady markby.  And a very good
thing too, dear, I dare say.  It might break up many a happy
home if they did.  Not yours, I need hardly say,
Gertrude.  You have married a pattern husband.  I wish
I could say as much for myself.  But since Sir John has
taken to attending the debates regularly, which he never used to
do in the good old days, his language has become quite
impossible.  He always seems to think that he is addressing
the House, and consequently whenever he discusses the state of
the agricultural labourer, or the Welsh Church, or something
quite improper of that kind, I am obliged to send all the
servants out of the room.  It is not pleasant to see
one’s own butler, who has been with one for twenty-three
years, actually blushing at the side-board, and the footmen
making contortions in corners like persons in circuses.  I
assure you my life will be quite ruined unless they send John at
once to the Upper House.  He won’t take any interest
in politics then, will he?  The House of Lords is so
sensible.  An assembly of gentlemen.  But in his
present state, Sir John is really a great trial.  Why, this
morning before breakfast was half over, he stood up on the
hearthrug, put his hands in his pockets, and appealed to the
country at the top of his voice.  I left the table as soon
as I had my second cup of tea, I need hardly say.  But his
violent language could be heard all over the house!  I
trust, Gertrude, that Sir Robert is not like that?


lady chiltern.  But I am very
much interested in politics, Lady Markby.  I love to hear
Robert talk about them.


lady markby.  Well, I hope he
is not as devoted to Blue Books as Sir John is.  I
don’t think they can be quite improving reading for any
one.


mrs. cheveley
[Languidly.]  I have never read a Blue Book.  I
prefer books . . . in yellow covers.


lady markby.  [Genially
unconscious
.]  Yellow is a gayer colour, is it
not?  I used to wear yellow a good deal in my early days,
and would do so now if Sir John was not so painfully personal in
his observations, and a man on the question of dress is always
ridiculous, is he not?


mrs. cheveley.  Oh, no! 
I think men are the only authorities on dress.


lady markby.  Really? 
One wouldn’t say so from the sort of hats they wear? would
one?


[The butler enters, followed by the
footman
Tea is set on a small table close to
lady chiltern.]


lady chiltern.  May I give you
some tea, Mrs. Cheveley?


mrs. cheveley.  Thanks. 
[The butler hands mrs. cheveley
a cup of tea on a salver.]


lady chiltern.  Some tea, Lady
Markby?


lady markby.  No thanks,
dear.  [The servants go out.]  The fact is, I
have promised to go round for ten minutes to see poor Lady
Brancaster, who is in very great trouble.  Her daughter,
quite a well-brought-up girl, too, has actually become engaged to
be married to a curate in Shropshire.  It is very sad, very
sad indeed.  I can’t understand this modern mania for
curates.  In my time we girls saw them, of course, running
about the place like rabbits.  But we never took any notice
of them, I need hardly say.  But I am told that nowadays
country society is quite honeycombed with them.  I think it
most irreligious.  And then the eldest son has quarrelled
with his father, and it is said that when they meet at the club
Lord Brancaster always hides himself behind the money article in
The Times.  However, I believe that is quite a common
occurrence nowadays and that they have to take in extra copies of
The Times at all the clubs in St. James’s Street;
there are so many sons who won’t have anything to do with
their fathers, and so many fathers who won’t speak to their
sons.  I think myself, it is very much to be regretted.


mrs. cheveley.  So do I. 
Fathers have so much to learn from their sons nowadays.


lady markby.  Really,
dear?  What?


mrs. cheveley.  The art of
living.  The only really Fine Art we have produced in modern
times.


lady markby.  [Shaking her
head
.]  Ah!  I am afraid Lord Brancaster knew a
good deal about that.  More than his poor wife ever
did.  [Turning to lady
chiltern
.]  You know Lady Brancaster, don’t
you, dear?


lady chiltern.  Just
slightly.  She was staying at Langton last autumn, when we
were there.


lady markby.  Well, like all
stout women, she looks the very picture of happiness, as no doubt
you noticed.  But there are many tragedies in her family,
besides this affair of the curate.  Her own sister, Mrs.
Jekyll, had a most unhappy life; through no fault of her own, I
am sorry to say.  She ultimately was so broken-hearted that
she went into a convent, or on to the operatic stage, I forget
which.  No; I think it was decorative art-needlework she
took up.  I know she had lost all sense of pleasure in
life.  [Rising.]  And now, Gertrude, if you will
allow me, I shall leave Mrs. Cheveley in your charge and call
back for her in a quarter of an hour.  Or perhaps, dear Mrs.
Cheveley, you wouldn’t mind waiting in the carriage while I
am with Lady Brancaster.  As I intend it to be a visit of
condolence, I shan’t stay long.


mrs. cheveley
[Rising.]  I don’t mind waiting in the carriage
at all, provided there is somebody to look at one.


lady markby.  Well, I hear the
curate is always prowling about the house.


mrs. cheveley.  I am afraid I
am not fond of girl friends.


lady chiltern
[Rising.]  Oh, I hope Mrs. Cheveley will stay here a
little.  I should like to have a few minutes’
conversation with her.


mrs. cheveley.  How very kind
of you, Lady Chiltern!  Believe me, nothing would give me
greater pleasure.


lady markby.  Ah! no doubt you
both have many pleasant reminiscences of your schooldays to talk
over together.  Good-bye, dear Gertrude!  Shall I see
you at Lady Bonar’s to-night?  She has discovered a
wonderful new genius.  He does . . . nothing at all, I
believe.  That is a great comfort, is it not?


lady chiltern.  Robert and I
are dining at home by ourselves to-night, and I don’t think
I shall go anywhere afterwards.  Robert, of course, will
have to be in the House.  But there is nothing interesting
on.


lady markby.  Dining at home
by yourselves?  Is that quite prudent?  Ah, I forgot,
your husband is an exception.  Mine is the general rule, and
nothing ages a woman so rapidly as having married the general
rule.  [Exit lady
markby
.]


mrs. cheveley.  Wonderful
woman, Lady Markby, isn’t she?  Talks more and says
less than anybody I ever met.  She is made to be a public
speaker.  Much more so than her husband, though he is a
typical Englishman, always dull and usually violent.


lady chiltern.  [Makes no
answer
, but remains standingThere is a
pause
Then the eyes of the two women
meet
lady chiltern looks
stern and pale
mrs.
cheveley
seem rather amused.]  Mrs. Cheveley,
I think it is right to tell you quite frankly that, had I known
who you really were, I should not have invited you to my house
last night.


mrs. cheveley [With an
impertinent smile
.]  Really?


lady chiltern.  I could not
have done so.


mrs. cheveley.  I see that
after all these years you have not changed a bit, Gertrude.


lady chiltern.  I never
change.


mrs. cheveley [Elevating her
eyebrows
.]  Then life has taught you nothing?


lady chiltern.  It has taught
me that a person who has once been guilty of a dishonest and
dishonourable action may be guilty of it a second time, and
should be shunned.


mrs. cheveley.  Would you
apply that rule to every one?


lady chiltern.  Yes, to every
one, without exception.


mrs. cheveley.  Then I am
sorry for you, Gertrude, very sorry for you.


lady chiltern.  You see now, I
was sure, that for many reasons any further acquaintance between
us during your stay in London is quite impossible?


mrs. cheveley [Leaning back in
her chair
.]  Do you know, Gertrude, I don’t mind
your talking morality a bit.  Morality is simply the
attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally
dislike.  You dislike me.  I am quite aware of
that.  And I have always detested you.  And yet I have
come here to do you a service.


lady chiltern
[Contemptuously.]  Like the service you wished to
render my husband last night, I suppose.  Thank heaven, I
saved him from that.


mrs. cheveley.  [Starting
to her feet
.]  It was you who made him write that
insolent letter to me?  It was you who made him break his
promise?


lady chiltern.  Yes.


mrs. cheveley.  Then you must
make him keep it.  I give you till to-morrow
morning—no more.  If by that time your husband does
not solemnly bind himself to help me in this great scheme in
which I am interested—


lady chiltern.  This
fraudulent speculation—


mrs. cheveley.  Call it what
you choose.  I hold your husband in the hollow of my hand,
and if you are wise you will make him do what I tell him.


lady chiltern.  [Rising and
going towards her
.]  You are impertinent.  What has
my husband to do with you?  With a woman like you?


mrs. cheveley [With a bitter
laugh
.]  In this world like meets with like.  It is
because your husband is himself fraudulent and dishonest that we
pair so well together.  Between you and him there are
chasms.  He and I are closer than friends.  We are
enemies linked together.  The same sin binds us.


lady chiltern.  How dare you
class my husband with yourself?  How dare you threaten him
or me?  Leave my house.  You are unfit to enter it.


[sir robert chiltern enters from
behind
He hears his wife’s last words,
and sees to whom they are addressedHe grows
deadly pale
.]


mrs. cheveley.  Your
house!  A house bought with the price of dishonour.  A
house, everything in which has been paid for by fraud. 
[Turns round and sees sir robert
chiltern
.]  Ask him what the origin of his fortune
is!  Get him to tell you how he sold to a stockbroker a
Cabinet secret.  Learn from him to what you owe your
position.


lady chiltern.  It is not
true!  Robert!  It is not true!


mrs. cheveley.  [Pointing
at him with outstretched finger
.]  Look at him! 
Can he deny it?  Does he dare to?


sir robert chiltern
Go!  Go at once.  You have done your worst now.


mrs. cheveley.  My
worst?  I have not yet finished with you, with either of
you.  I give you both till to-morrow at noon.  If by
then you don’t do what I bid you to do, the whole world
shall know the origin of Robert Chiltern.


[sir robert chiltern strikes the
bell
Enter mason.]


sir robert chiltern.  Show
Mrs. Cheveley out.


[mrs. cheveley starts;
then bows with somewhat exaggerated politeness to lady chiltern, who makes no sign of
response
As she passes by sir robert chiltern, who is standing
close to the door
, she pauses for a moment and looks him
straight in the face
She then goes out,
followed by the servant, who closes the door after
him
The husband and wife are left alone
lady chiltern stands like some one
in a dreadful dream
Then she turns round and looks
at her husband
She looks at him with strange
eyes
, as though she were seeing him for the first
time
.]


lady chiltern.  You sold a
Cabinet secret for money!  You began your life with
fraud!  You built up your career on dishonour!  Oh,
tell me it is not true!  Lie to me!  Lie to me! 
Tell me it is not true!


sir robert chiltern.  What
this woman said is quite true.  But, Gertrude, listen to
me.  You don’t realise how I was tempted.  Let me
tell you the whole thing. [Goes towards her.]


lady chiltern.  Don’t
come near me.  Don’t touch me.  I feel as if you
had soiled me for ever.  Oh! what a mask you have been
wearing all these years!  A horrible painted mask!  You
sold yourself for money.  Oh! a common thief were
better.  You put yourself up to sale to the highest
bidder!  You were bought in the market.  You lied to
the whole world.  And yet you will not lie to me.


sir robert chiltern
[Rushing towards her.]  Gertrude!  Gertrude!


lady chiltern.  [Thrusting
him back with outstretched hands
.]  No, don’t
speak!  Say nothing!  Your voice wakes terrible
memories—memories of things that made me love
you—memories of words that made me love you—memories
that now are horrible to me.  And how I worshipped
you!  You were to me something apart from common life, a
thing pure, noble, honest, without stain.  The world seemed
to me finer because you were in it, and goodness more real
because you lived.  And now—oh, when I think that I
made of a man like you my ideal! the ideal of my life!


sir robert chiltern.  There
was your mistake.  There was your error.  The error all
women commit.  Why can’t you women love us, faults and
all?  Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals?  We
have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love
women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies,
their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that
reason.  It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have
need of love.  It is when we are wounded by our own hands,
or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure
us—else what use is love at all?  All sins, except a
sin against itself, Love should forgive.  All lives, save
loveless lives, true Love should pardon.  A man’s love
is like that.  It is wider, larger, more human than a
woman’s.  Women think that they are making ideals of
men.  What they are making of us are false idols
merely.  You made your false idol of me, and I had not the
courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my
weaknesses.  I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I
have lost it now.  And so, last night you ruined my life for
me—yes, ruined it!  What this woman asked of me was
nothing compared to what she offered to me.  She offered
security, peace, stability.  The sin of my youth, that I had
thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible,
with its hands at my throat.  I could have killed it for
ever, sent it back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned
the one witness against me.  You prevented me.  No one
but you, you know it.  And now what is there before me but
public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the mockery of the world,
a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely dishonoured death, it may be,
some day?  Let women make no more ideals of men! let them
not put them on alters and bow before them, or they may ruin
other lives as completely as you—you whom I have so wildly
loved—have ruined mine!


[He passes from the roomlady chiltern rushes towards him,
but the door is closed when she reaches itPale
with anguish
, bewildered, helpless, she
sways like a plant in the water
Her hands,
outstretched, seem to tremble in the air like blossoms
in the mind
Then she flings herself down beside a
sofa and buries her face
Her sobs are like the sobs
of a child
.]


Act
Drop


THIRD ACT


SCENE


The Library in Lord Goring’s houseAn
Adam room
On the right is the door leading into the
hall
On the left, the door of the
smoking-room
A pair of folding doors at the back
open into the drawing-room
The fire is
lit
Phipps, the butler, is arranging
some newspapers on the writing-table
The
distinction of Phipps is his impassivity
. He has been
termed by enthusiasts the Ideal Butler
The Sphinx
is not so incommunicable
He is a mask with a
manner
Of his intellectual or emotional life,
history knows nothingHe represents the
dominance of form
.


[Enter lord goring in
evening dress with a buttonhole
He is wearing a
silk hat and Inverness cape
White-gloved, he
carries a Louis Seize cane
His are all the delicate
fopperies of Fashion
One sees that he stands in
immediate relation to modern life
, makes it indeed,
and so masters itHe is the first well-dressed
philosopher in the history of thought
.]


lord goring.  Got my second
buttonhole for me, Phipps?


phipps.  Yes, my lord. 
[Takes his hat, cane, and cape, and
presents new buttonhole on salver
.]


lord goring.  Rather
distinguished thing, Phipps.  I am the only person of the
smallest importance in London at present who wears a
buttonhole.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.  I
have observed that,


lord goring.  [Taking out
old buttonhole
.]  You see, Phipps, Fashion is what one
wears oneself.  What is unfashionable is what other people
wear.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  Just as
vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  [Putting in a
new buttonhole
.]  And falsehoods the truths of other
people.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  Other people are
quite dreadful.  The only possible society is oneself.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  To love oneself
is the beginning of a lifelong romance, Phipps.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  [Looking at
himself in the glass
.]  Don’t think I quite like
this buttonhole, Phipps.  Makes me look a little too
old.  Makes me almost in the prime of life, eh, Phipps?


phipps.  I don’t observe
any alteration in your lordship’s appearance.


lord goring.  You don’t,
Phipps?


phipps.  No, my lord.


lord goring.  I am not quite
sure.  For the future a more trivial buttonhole, Phipps, on
Thursday evenings.


phipps.  I will speak to the
florist, my lord.  She has had a loss in her family lately,
which perhaps accounts for the lack of triviality your lordship
complains of in the buttonhole.


lord goring.  Extraordinary
thing about the lower classes in England—they are always
losing their relations.


phipps.  Yes, my lord! 
They are extremely fortunate in that respect.


lord goring.  [Turns round
and looks at him
phipps
remains impassive.]  Hum!  Any letters,
Phipps?


phipps.  Three, my lord. 
[Hands letters on a salver.]


lord goring.  [Takes
letters
.]  Want my cab round in twenty minutes.


phipps.  Yes, my lord. 
[Goes towards door.]


lord goring.  [Holds up
letter in pink envelope
.]  Ahem!  Phipps, when did
this letter arrive?


phipps.  It was brought by
hand just after your lordship went to the club.


lord goring.  That will
do.  [Exit phipps.] 
Lady Chiltern’s handwriting on Lady Chiltern’s pink
notepaper.  That is rather curious.  I thought Robert
was to write.  Wonder what Lady Chiltern has got to say to
me?  [Sits at bureau and opens letter, and reads
it
.]  ‘I want you.  I trust you.  I am
coming to you.  Gertrude.’  [Puts down the
letter with a puzzled look
Then takes it up,
and reads it again slowly.]  ‘I want you. 
I trust you.  I am coming to you.’  So she has
found out everything!  Poor woman!  Poor woman!  [
Pulls out watch and looks at it.]  But what an hour
to call!  Ten o’clock!  I shall have to give up
going to the Berkshires.  However, it is always nice to be
expected, and not to arrive.  I am not expected at the
Bachelors’, so I shall certainly go there.  Well, I
will make her stand by her husband.  That is the only thing
for her to do.  That is the only thing for any woman to
do.  It is the growth of the moral sense in women that makes
marriage such a hopeless, one-sided institution.  Ten
o’clock.  She should be here soon.  I must tell
Phipps I am not in to any one else.  [Goes towards
bell
]


[Enter phipps.]


phipps.  Lord Caversham.


lord goring.  Oh, why will
parents always appear at the wrong time?  Some extraordinary
mistake in nature, I suppose.  [Enter lord caversham.]  Delighted to see you,
my dear father.  [Goes to meet him.]


lord caversham.  Take my cloak
off.


lord goring.  Is it worth
while, father?


lord caversham.  Of course it
is worth while, sir.  Which is the most comfortable
chair?


lord goring.  This one,
father.  It is the chair I use myself, when I have
visitors.


lord caversham.  Thank
ye.  No draught, I hope, in this room?


lord goring.  No, father.


lord caversham.  [Sitting
down
.]  Glad to hear it.  Can’t stand
draughts.  No draughts at home.


lord goring.  Good many
breezes, father.


lord caversham.  Eh? 
Eh?  Don’t understand what you mean.  Want to
have a serious conversation with you, sir.


lord goring.  My dear
father!  At this hour?


lord caversham.  Well, sir, it
is only ten o’clock.  What is your objection to the
hour?  I think the hour is an admirable hour!


lord goring.  Well, the fact
is, father, this is not my day for talking seriously.  I am
very sorry, but it is not my day.


lord caversham.  What do you
mean, sir?


lord goring.  During the
Season, father, I only talk seriously on the first Tuesday in
every month, from four to seven.


lord caversham.  Well, make it
Tuesday, sir, make it Tuesday.


lord goring.  But it is after
seven, father, and my doctor says I must not have any serious
conversation after seven.  It makes me talk in my sleep.


lord caversham.  Talk in your
sleep, sir?  What does that matter?  You are not
married.


lord goring.  No, father, I am
not married.


lord caversham.  Hum! 
That is what I have come to talk to you about, sir.  You
have got to get married, and at once.  Why, when I was your
age, sir, I had been an inconsolable widower for three months,
and was already paying my addresses to your admirable
mother.  Damme, sir, it is your duty to get married. 
You can’t be always living for pleasure.  Every man of
position is married nowadays.  Bachelors are not fashionable
any more.  They are a damaged lot.  Too much is known
about them.  You must get a wife, sir.  Look where your
friend Robert Chiltern has got to by probity, hard work, and a
sensible marriage with a good woman.  Why don’t you
imitate him, sir?  Why don’t you take him for your
model?


lord goring.  I think I shall,
father.


lord caversham.  I wish you
would, sir.  Then I should be happy.  At present I make
your mother’s life miserable on your account.  You are
heartless, sir, quite heartless.


lord goring.  I hope not,
father.


lord caversham.  And it is
high time for you to get married.  You are thirty-four years
of age, sir.


lord goring.  Yes, father, but
I only admit to thirty-two—thirty-one and a half when I
have a really good buttonhole.  This buttonhole is not . . .
trivial enough.


lord caversham.  I tell you
you are thirty-four, sir.  And there is a draught in your
room, besides, which makes your conduct worse.  Why did you
tell me there was no draught, sir?  I feel a draught, sir, I
feel it distinctly.


lord goring.  So do I,
father.  It is a dreadful draught.  I will come and see
you to-morrow, father.  We can talk over anything you
like.  Let me help you on with your cloak, father.


lord caversham.  No, sir; I
have called this evening for a definite purpose, and I am going
to see it through at all costs to my health or yours.  Put
down my cloak, sir.


lord goring.  Certainly,
father.  But let us go into another room.  [Rings
bell
.]  There is a dreadful draught here. 
[Enter phipps.]  Phipps,
is there a good fire in the smoking-room?


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  Come in there,
father.  Your sneezes are quite heartrending.


lord caversham.  Well, sir, I
suppose I have a right to sneeze when I choose?


lord goring
[Apologetically.]  Quite so, father.  I was
merely expressing sympathy.


lord caversham.  Oh, damn
sympathy.  There is a great deal too much of that sort of
thing going on nowadays.


lord goring.  I quite agree
with you, father.  If there was less sympathy in the world
there would be less trouble in the world.


lord caversham.  [Going
towards the smoking-room
.]  That is a paradox,
sir.  I hate paradoxes.


lord goring.  So do I,
father.  Everybody one meets is a paradox nowadays.  It
is a great bore.  It makes society so obvious.


lord caversham.  [Turning
round
, and looking at his son beneath his bushy
eyebrows
.]  Do you always really understand what you
say, sir?


lord goring.  [After some
hesitation
.]  Yes, father, if I listen attentively.


lord caversham
[Indignantly.]  If you listen attentively! . . .
Conceited young puppy!


[Goes off grumbling into the smoking-roomphipps enters.]


lord goring.  Phipps, there is
a lady coming to see me this evening on particular
business.  Show her into the drawing-room when she
arrives.  You understand?


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  It is a matter
of the gravest importance, Phipps.


phipps.  I understand, my
lord.


lord goring.  No one else is
to be admitted, under any circumstances.


phipps.  I understand, my
lord.  [Bell rings.]


lord goring.  Ah! that is
probably the lady.  I shall see her myself.


[Just as he is going towards the door lord caversham enters from the
smoking-room
.]


lord caversham.  Well, sir? am
I to wait attendance on you?


lord goring.  [Considerably
perplexed
.]  In a moment, father.  Do excuse
me.  [lord caversham goes
back
.]  Well, remember my instructions,
Phipps—into that room.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


[lord goring goes into the
smoking-room
harold, the
footman shows
mrs. cheveley
inLamia-like, she is in green and
silver
She has a cloak of black satin, lined
with dead rose-leaf silk
.]


harold.  What name, madam?


mrs. cheveley.  [To
phipps, who advances towards
her
.]  Is Lord Goring not here?  I was told he was
at home?


phipps.  His lordship is
engaged at present with Lord Caversham, madam.


[Turns a cold, glassy eye on harold, who at once retires.]


mrs. cheveley.  [To
herself
.]  How very filial!


phipps.  His lordship told me
to ask you, madam, to be kind enough to wait in the drawing-room
for him.  His lordship will come to you there.


mrs. cheveley.  [With a
look of surprise
.]  Lord Goring expects me?


phipps.  Yes, madam.


mrs. cheveley.  Are you quite
sure?


phipps.  His lordship told me
that if a lady called I was to ask her to wait in the
drawing-room.  [Goes to the door of the drawing-room and
opens it
.]  His lordship’s directions on the
subject were very precise.


mrs. cheveley.  [To
herself
]  How thoughtful of him!  To expect the
unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.  [Goes
towards the drawing-room and looks in
.]  Ugh!  How
dreary a bachelor’s drawing-room always looks.  I
shall have to alter all this.  [phipps brings the lamp from the
writing-table
.]  No, I don’t care for that
lamp.  It is far too glaring.  Light some candles.


phipps.  [Replaces
lamp
.]  Certainly, madam.


mrs. cheveley.  I hope the
candles have very becoming shades.


phipps.  We have had no
complaints about them, madam, as yet.


[Passes into the drawing-room and begins to light the
candles
.]


mrs. cheveley.  [To
herself
.]  I wonder what woman he is waiting for
to-night.  It will be delightful to catch him.  Men
always look so silly when they are caught.  And they are
always being caught.  [Looks about room and approaches
the writing-table
.]  What a very interesting room! 
What a very interesting picture!  Wonder what his
correspondence is like.  [Takes up letters.] 
Oh, what a very uninteresting correspondence!  Bills and
cards, debts and dowagers!  Who on earth writes to him on
pink paper?  How silly to write on pink paper!  It
looks like the beginning of a middle-class romance.  Romance
should never begin with sentiment.  It should begin with
science and end with a settlement.  [Puts letter
down
, then takes it up again.]  I know that
handwriting.  That is Gertrude Chiltern’s.  I
remember it perfectly.  The ten commandments in every stroke
of the pen, and the moral law all over the page.  Wonder
what Gertrude is writing to him about?  Something horrid
about me, I suppose.  How I detest that woman! 
[Reads it.]  ‘I trust you.  I want
you.  I am coming to you.  Gertrude.’ 
‘I trust you.  I want you.  I am coming to
you.’


[A look of triumph comes over her faceShe is
just about to steal the letter
, when phipps comes in.]


phipps.  The candles in the
drawing-room are lit, madam, as you directed.


mrs. cheveley.  Thank
you.  [Rises hastily and slips the letter under a large
silver-cased blotting-book that is lying on the table
.]


phipps.  I trust the shades
will be to your liking, madam.  They are the most becoming
we have.  They are the same as his lordship uses himself
when he is dressing for dinner.


mrs. cheveley.  [With a
smile
.]  Then I am sure they will be perfectly
right.


phipps
[Gravely.]  Thank you, madam.


[mrs. cheveley goes into the
drawing-room
phipps
closes the door and retiresThe door is then
slowly opened
, and mrs.
cheveley
comes out and creeps stealthily towards the
writing-table
Suddenly voices are heard from the
smoking-room
mrs. cheveley
grows pale, and stopsThe voices grow
louder
, and she goes back into the drawing-room,
biting her lip.]


[Enter lord goring
and lord caversham.]


lord goring
[Expostulating.]  My dear father, if I am to get
married, surely you will allow me to choose the time, place, and
person?  Particularly the person.


lord caversham
[Testily.]  That is a matter for me, sir.  You
would probably make a very poor choice.  It is I who should
be consulted, not you.  There is property at stake.  It
is not a matter for affection.  Affection comes later on in
married life.


lord goring.  Yes.  In
married life affection comes when people thoroughly dislike each
other, father, doesn’t it?  [Puts on lord caversham’s cloak for
him
.]


lord caversham.  Certainly,
sir.  I mean certainly not, air.  You are talking very
foolishly to-night.  What I say is that marriage is a matter
for common sense.


lord goring.  But women who
have common sense are so curiously plain, father, aren’t
they?  Of course I only speak from hearsay.


lord caversham.  No woman,
plain or pretty, has any common sense at all, sir.  Common
sense is the privilege of our sex.


lord goring.  Quite so. 
And we men are so self-sacrificing that we never use it, do we,
father?


lord caversham.  I use it,
sir.  I use nothing else.


lord goring.  So my mother
tells me.


lord caversham.  It is the
secret of your mother’s happiness.  You are very
heartless, sir, very heartless.


lord goring.  I hope not,
father.


[Goes out for a momentThen returns,
looking rather put out, with sir robert chiltern.]


sir robert chiltern.  My dear
Arthur, what a piece of good luck meeting you on the
doorstep!  Your servant had just told me you were not at
home.  How extraordinary!


lord goring.  The fact is, I
am horribly busy to-night, Robert, and I gave orders I was not at
home to any one.  Even my father had a comparatively cold
reception.  He complained of a draught the whole time.


sir robert chiltern.  Ah! you
must be at home to me, Arthur.  You are my best
friend.  Perhaps by to-morrow you will be my only
friend.  My wife has discovered everything.


lord goring.  Ah! I guessed as
much!


sir robert chiltern
[Looking at him.]  Really!  How?


lord goring.  [After some
hesitation
.]  Oh, merely by something in the expression
of your face as you came in.  Who told her?


sir robert chiltern.  Mrs.
Cheveley herself.  And the woman I love knows that I began
my career with an act of low dishonesty, that I built up my life
upon sands of shame—that I sold, like a common huckster,
the secret that had been intrusted to me as a man of
honour.  I thank heaven poor Lord Radley died without
knowing that I betrayed him.  I would to God I had died
before I had been so horribly tempted, or had fallen so
low.  [Burying his face in his hands.]


lord goring.  [After a
pause
.]  You have heard nothing from Vienna yet, in
answer to your wire?


sir robert chiltern
[Looking up.]  Yes; I got a telegram from the first
secretary at eight o’clock to-night.


lord goring.  Well?


sir robert chiltern.  Nothing
is absolutely known against her.  On the contrary, she
occupies a rather high position in society.  It is a sort of
open secret that Baron Arnheim left her the greater portion of
his immense fortune.  Beyond that I can learn nothing.


lord goring.  She
doesn’t turn out to be a spy, then?


sir robert chiltern.  Oh!
spies are of no use nowadays.  Their profession is
over.  The newspapers do their work instead.


lord goring.  And thunderingly
well they do it.


sir robert chiltern.  Arthur,
I am parched with thirst.  May I ring for something? 
Some hock and seltzer?


lord goring.  Certainly. 
Let me.  [Rings the bell.]


sir robert chiltern
Thanks!  I don’t know what to do, Arthur, I
don’t know what to do, and you are my only friend. 
But what a friend you are—the one friend I can trust. 
I can trust you absolutely, can’t I?


[Enter phipps.]


lord goring.  My dear Robert,
of course.  Oh!  [To phipps.]  Bring some hock and
seltzer.


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  And Phipps!


phipps.  Yes, my lord.


lord goring.  Will you excuse
me for a moment, Robert?  I want to give some directions to
my servant.


sir robert chiltern
Certainly.


lord goring.  When that lady
calls, tell her that I am not expected home this evening. 
Tell her that I have been suddenly called out of town.  You
understand?


phipps.  The lady is in that
room, my lord.  You told me to show her into that room, my
lord.


lord goring.  You did
perfectly right.  [Exit phipps.]  What a mess I am in. 
No; I think I shall get through it.  I’ll give her a
lecture through the door.  Awkward thing to manage,
though.


sir robert chiltern.  Arthur,
tell me what I should do.  My life seems to have crumbled
about me.  I am a ship without a rudder in a night without a
star.


lord goring.  Robert, you love
your wife, don’t you?


sir robert chiltern.  I love
her more than anything in the world.  I used to think
ambition the great thing.  It is not.  Love is the
great thing in the world.  There is nothing but love, and I
love her.  But I am defamed in her eyes.  I am ignoble
in her eyes.  There is a wide gulf between us now.  She
has found me out, Arthur, she has found me out.


lord goring.  Has she never in
her life done some folly—some indiscretion—that she
should not forgive your sin?


sir robert chiltern.  My
wife!  Never!  She does not know what weakness or
temptation is.  I am of clay like other men.  She
stands apart as good women do—pitiless in her
perfection—cold and stern and without mercy.  But I
love her, Arthur.  We are childless, and I have no one else
to love, no one else to love me.  Perhaps if God had sent us
children she might have been kinder to me.  But God has
given us a lonely house.  And she has cut my heart in
two.  Don’t let us talk of it.  I was brutal to
her this evening.  But I suppose when sinners talk to saints
they are brutal always.  I said to her things that were
hideously true, on my side, from my stand-point, from the
standpoint of men.  But don’t let us talk of that.


lord goring.  Your wife will
forgive you.  Perhaps at this moment she is forgiving
you.  She loves you, Robert.  Why should she not
forgive?


sir robert chiltern.  God
grant it!  God grant it!  [Buries his face in his
hands
.]  But there is something more I have to tell you,
Arthur.


[Enter phipps with
drinks
.]


phipps.  [Hands hock and
seltzer to
sir robert
chiltern
.]  Hock and seltzer, sir.


sir robert chiltern.  Thank
you.


lord goring.  Is your carriage
here, Robert?


sir robert chiltern.  No; I
walked from the club.


lord goring.  Sir Robert will
take my cab, Phipps.


phipps.  Yes, my lord. 
[Exit.]


lord goring.  Robert, you
don’t mind my sending you away?


sir robert chiltern.  Arthur,
you must let me stay for five minutes.  I have made up my
mind what I am going to do to-night in the House.  The
debate on the Argentine Canal is to begin at eleven.  [A
chair falls in the drawing-room
.]  What is that?


lord goring.  Nothing.


sir robert chiltern.  I heard
a chair fall in the next room.  Some one has been
listening.


lord goring.  No, no; there is
no one there.


sir robert chiltern.  There is
some one.  There are lights in the room, and the door is
ajar.  Some one has been listening to every secret of my
life.  Arthur, what does this mean?


lord goring.  Robert, you are
excited, unnerved.  I tell you there is no one in that room.
Sit down, Robert.


sir robert chiltern.  Do you
give me your word that there is no one there?


lord goring.  Yes.


sir robert chiltern.  Your
word of honour?  [Sits down.]


lord goring.  Yes.


sir robert chiltern
[Rises.]  Arthur, let me see for myself.


lord goring.  No, no.


sir robert chiltern.  If there
is no one there why should I not look in that room?  Arthur,
you must let me go into that room and satisfy myself.  Let
me know that no eavesdropper has heard my life’s
secret.  Arthur, you don’t realise what I am going
through.


lord goring.  Robert, this
must stop.  I have told you that there is no one in that
room—that is enough.


sir robert chiltern
[Rushes to the door of the room.]  It is not
enough.  I insist on going into this room.  You have
told me there is no one there, so what reason can you have for
refusing me?


lord goring.  For God’s
sake, don’t!  There is some one there.  Some one
whom you must not see.


sir robert chiltern.  Ah, I
thought so!


lord goring.  I forbid you to
enter that room.


sir robert chiltern.  Stand
back.  My life is at stake.  And I don’t care who
is there.  I will know who it is to whom I have told my
secret and my shame.  [Enters room.]


lord goring.  Great heavens!
his own wife!


[sir robert chiltern comes
back
, with a look of scorn and anger on his face.]


sir robert chiltern.  What
explanation have you to give me for the presence of that woman
here?


lord goring.  Robert, I swear
to you on my honour that that lady is stainless and guiltless of
all offence towards you.


sir robert chiltern.  She is a
vile, an infamous thing!


lord goring.  Don’t say
that, Robert!  It was for your sake she came here.  It
was to try and save you she came here.  She loves you and no
one else.


sir robert chiltern.  You are
mad.  What have I to do with her intrigues with you? 
Let her remain your mistress!  You are well suited to each
other.  She, corrupt and shameful—you, false as a
friend, treacherous as an enemy even—


lord goring.  It is not true,
Robert.  Before heaven, it is not true.  In her
presence and in yours I will explain all.


sir robert chiltern.  Let me
pass, sir.  You have lied enough upon your word of
honour.


[sir robert chiltern goes
out
lord goring rushes
to the door of the drawing-room
, when mrs. cheveley comes out, looking
radiant and much amused
.]


mrs. cheveley.  [With a
mock curtsey
]  Good evening, Lord Goring!


lord goring.  Mrs.
Cheveley!  Great heavens! . . . May I ask what you were
doing in my drawing-room?


mrs. cheveley.  Merely
listening.  I have a perfect passion for listening through
keyholes.  One always hears such wonderful things through
them.


lord goring.  Doesn’t
that sound rather like tempting Providence?


mrs. cheveley.  Oh! surely
Providence can resist temptation by this time.  [Makes a
sign to him to take her cloak off
, which he does.]


lord goring.  I am glad you
have called.  I am going to give you some good advice.


mrs. cheveley.  Oh! pray
don’t.  One should never give a woman anything that
she can’t wear in the evening.


lord goring.  I see you are
quite as wilful as you used to be.


mrs. cheveley.  Far
more!  I have greatly improved.  I have had more
experience.


lord goring.  Too much
experience is a dangerous thing.  Pray have a
cigarette.  Half the pretty women in London smoke
cigarettes.  Personally I prefer the other half.


mrs. cheveley.  Thanks. 
I never smoke.  My dressmaker wouldn’t like it, and a
woman’s first duty in life is to her dressmaker,
isn’t it?  What the second duty is, no one has as yet
discovered.


lord goring.  You have come
here to sell me Robert Chiltern’s letter, haven’t
you?


mrs. cheveley.  To offer it to
you on conditions.  How did you guess that?


lord goring.  Because you
haven’t mentioned the subject.  Have you got it with
you?


mrs. cheveley.  [Sitting
down
.]  Oh, no!  A well-made dress has no
pockets.


lord goring.  What is your
price for it?


mrs. cheveley.  How absurdly
English you are!  The English think that a cheque-book can
solve every problem in life.  Why, my dear Arthur, I have
very much more money than you have, and quite as much as Robert
Chiltern has got hold of.  Money is not what I want.


lord goring.  What do you want
then, Mrs. Cheveley?


mrs. cheveley.  Why
don’t you call me Laura?


lord goring.  I don’t
like the name.


mrs. cheveley.  You used to
adore it.


lord goring.  Yes:
that’s why.  [mrs. cheveley
motions to him to sit down beside herHe
smiles
, and does so.]


mrs. cheveley.  Arthur, you
loved me once.


lord goring.  Yes.


mrs. cheveley.  And you asked
me to be your wife.


lord goring.  That was the
natural result of my loving you.


mrs. cheveley.  And you threw
me over because you saw, or said you saw, poor old Lord Mortlake
trying to have a violent flirtation with me in the conservatory
at Tenby.


lord goring.  I am under the
impression that my lawyer settled that matter with you on certain
terms . . . dictated by yourself.


mrs. cheveley.  At that time I
was poor; you were rich.


lord goring.  Quite so. 
That is why you pretended to love me.


mrs. cheveley.  [Shrugging
her shoulders
.]  Poor old Lord Mortlake, who had only
two topics of conversation, his gout and his wife!  I never
could quite make out which of the two he was talking about. 
He used the most horrible language about them both.  Well,
you were silly, Arthur.  Why, Lord Mortlake was never
anything more to me than an amusement.  One of those utterly
tedious amusements one only finds at an English country house on
an English country Sunday.  I don’t think any one at
all morally responsible for what he or she does at an English
country house.


lord goring.  Yes.  I
know lots of people think that.


mrs. cheveley.  I loved you,
Arthur.


lord goring.  My dear Mrs.
Cheveley, you have always been far too clever to know anything
about love.


mrs. cheveley.  I did love
you.  And you loved me.  You know you loved me; and
love is a very wonderful thing.  I suppose that when a man
has once loved a woman, he will do anything for her, except
continue to love her?  [Puts her hand on his.]


lord goring.  [Taking his
hand away quietly
.]  Yes: except that.


mrs. cheveley.  [After a
pause
.]  I am tired of living abroad.  I want to
come back to London.  I want to have a charming house
here.  I want to have a salon.  If one could only teach
the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society
here would be quite civilised.  Besides, I have arrived at
the romantic stage.  When I saw you last night at the
Chilterns’, I knew you were the only person I had ever
cared for, if I ever have cared for anybody, Arthur.  And
so, on the morning of the day you marry me, I will give you
Robert Chiltern’s letter.  That is my offer.  I
will give it to you now, if you promise to marry me.


lord goring.  Now?


mrs. cheveley
[Smiling.]  To-morrow.


lord goring.  Are you really
serious?


mrs. cheveley.  Yes, quite
serious.


lord goring.  I should make
you a very bad husband.


mrs. cheveley.  I don’t
mind bad husbands.  I have had two.  They amused me
immensely.


lord goring.  You mean that
you amused yourself immensely, don’t you?


mrs. cheveley.  What do you
know about my married life?


lord goring.  Nothing: but I
can read it like a book.


mrs. cheveley.  What book?


lord goring
[Rising.]  The Book of Numbers.


mrs. cheveley.  Do you think
it is quite charming of you to be so rude to a woman in your own
house?


lord goring.  In the case of
very fascinating women, sex is a challenge, not a defence.


mrs. cheveley.  I suppose that
is meant for a compliment.  My dear Arthur, women are never
disarmed by compliments.  Men always are.  That is the
difference between the two sexes.


lord goring.  Women are never
disarmed by anything, as far as I know them.


mrs. cheveley.  [After a
pause
.]  Then you are going to allow your greatest
friend, Robert Chiltern, to be ruined, rather than marry some one
who really has considerable attractions left.  I thought you
would have risen to some great height of self-sacrifice,
Arthur.  I think you should.  And the rest of your life
you could spend in contemplating your own perfections.


lord goring.  Oh! I do that as
it is.  And self-sacrifice is a thing that should be put
down by law.  It is so demoralising to the people for whom
one sacrifices oneself.  They always go to the bad.


mrs. cheveley.  As if anything
could demoralise Robert Chiltern!  You seem to forget that I
know his real character.


lord goring.  What you know
about him is not his real character.  It was an act of folly
done in his youth, dishonourable, I admit, shameful, I admit,
unworthy of him, I admit, and therefore . . . not his true
character.


mrs. cheveley.  How you men
stand up for each other!


lord goring.  How you women
war against each other!


mrs. cheveley
[Bitterly.]  I only war against one woman, against
Gertrude Chiltern.  I hate her.  I hate her now more
than ever.


lord goring.  Because you have
brought a real tragedy into her life, I suppose.


mrs. cheveley.  [With a
sneer
.]  Oh, there is only one real tragedy in a
woman’s life.  The fact that her past is always her
lover, and her future invariably her husband.


lord goring.  Lady Chiltern
knows nothing of the kind of life to which you are alluding.


mrs. cheveley.  A woman whose
size in gloves is seven and three-quarters never knows much about
anything.  You know Gertrude has always worn seven and
three-quarters?  That is one of the reasons why there was
never any moral sympathy between us. . . . Well, Arthur, I
suppose this romantic interview may be regarded as at an
end.  You admit it was romantic, don’t you?  For
the privilege of being your wife I was ready to surrender a great
prize, the climax of my diplomatic career.  You
decline.  Very well.  If Sir Robert doesn’t
uphold my Argentine scheme, I expose him.  Voilà
tout.


lord goring.  You
mustn’t do that.  It would be vile, horrible,
infamous.


mrs. cheveley.  [Shrugging
her shoulders
.]  Oh! don’t use big words. 
They mean so little.  It is a commercial transaction. 
That is all.  There is no good mixing up sentimentality in
it.  I offered to sell Robert Chiltern a certain
thing.  If he won’t pay me my price, he will have to
pay the world a greater price.  There is no more to be
said.  I must go.  Good-bye.  Won’t you
shake hands?


lord goring.  With you? 
No.  Your transaction with Robert Chiltern may pass as a
loathsome commercial transaction of a loathsome commercial age;
but you seem to have forgotten that you came here to-night to
talk of love, you whose lips desecrated the word love, you to
whom the thing is a book closely sealed, went this afternoon to
the house of one of the most noble and gentle women in the world
to degrade her husband in her eyes, to try and kill her love for
him, to put poison in her heart, and bitterness in her life, to
break her idol, and, it may be, spoil her soul.  That I
cannot forgive you.  That was horrible.  For that there
can be no forgiveness.


mrs. cheveley.  Arthur, you
are unjust to me.  Believe me, you are quite unjust to
me.  I didn’t go to taunt Gertrude at all.  I had
no idea of doing anything of the kind when I entered.  I
called with Lady Markby simply to ask whether an ornament, a
jewel, that I lost somewhere last night, had been found at the
Chilterns’.  If you don’t believe me, you can
ask Lady Markby.  She will tell you it is true.  The
scene that occurred happened after Lady Markby had left, and was
really forced on me by Gertrude’s rudeness and
sneers.  I called, oh!—a little out of malice if you
like—but really to ask if a diamond brooch of mine had been
found.  That was the origin of the whole thing.


lord goring.  A diamond
snake-brooch with a ruby?


mrs. cheveley.  Yes.  How
do you know?


lord goring.  Because it is
found.  In point of fact, I found it myself, and stupidly
forgot to tell the butler anything about it as I was
leaving.  [Goes over to the writing-table and pulls out
the drawers
.]  It is in this drawer.  No, that
one.  This is the brooch, isn’t it?  [Holds up
the brooch
.]


mrs. cheveley.  Yes.  I
am so glad to get it back.  It was . . a present.


lord goring.  Won’t you
wear it?


mrs. cheveley.  Certainly, if
you pin it in.  [lord goring
suddenly clasps it on her arm.]  Why do you put it on
as a bracelet?  I never knew it could he worn as a
bracelet.


lord goring.  Really?


mrs. cheveley.  [Holding
out her handsome arm
.]  No; but it looks very well on me
as a bracelet, doesn’t it?


lord goring.  Yes; much better
than when I saw it last.


mrs. cheveley.  When did you
see it last?


lord goring
[Calmly.]  Oh, ten years ago, on Lady Berkshire, from
whom you stole it.


mrs. cheveley
[Starting.]  What do you mean?


lord goring.  I mean that you
stole that ornament from my cousin, Mary Berkshire, to whom I
gave it when she was married.  Suspicion fell on a wretched
servant, who was sent away in disgrace.  I recognised it
last night.  I determined to say nothing about it till I had
found the thief.  I have found the thief now, and I have
heard her own confession.


mrs. cheveley.  [Tossing
her head
.]  It is not true.


lord goring.  You know it is
true.  Why, thief is written across your face at this
moment.


mrs. cheveley.  I will deny
the whole affair from beginning to end.  I will say that I
have never seen this wretched thing, that it was never in my
possession.


[mrs. cheveley tries to get the
bracelet off her arm
, but failslord goring looks on amused
Her thin fingers tear at the jewel to no purpose
A curse breaks from her.]


lord goring.  The drawback of
stealing a thing, Mrs. Cheveley, is that one never knows how
wonderful the thing that one steals is.  You can’t get
that bracelet off, unless you know where the spring is.  And
I see you don’t know where the spring is.  It is
rather difficult to find.


mrs. cheveley.  You
brute!  You coward!  [She tries again to unclasp the
bracelet
, but fails.]


lord goring.  Oh! don’t
use big words.  They mean so little.


mrs. cheveley.  [Again
tears at the bracelet in a paroxysm of rage
, with
inarticulate sounds
Then stops, and looks
at
lord goring.]  What are
you going to do?


lord goring.  I am going to
ring for my servant.  He is an admirable servant. 
Always comes in the moment one rings for him.  When he comes
I will tell him to fetch the police.


mrs. cheveley
[Trembling.]  The police?  What for?


lord goring.  To-morrow the
Berkshires will prosecute you.  That is what the police are
for.


mrs. cheveley.  [Is now in
an agony of physical terror
Her face is
distorted
Her mouth awryA mask has
fallen from her
She it, for the moment,
dreadful to look at.]  Don’t do that.  I
will do anything you want.  Anything in the world you
want.


lord goring.  Give me Robert
Chiltern’s letter.


mrs. cheveley.  Stop!
Stop!  Let me have time to think.


lord goring.  Give me Robert
Chiltern’s letter.


mrs. cheveley.  I have not got
it with me.  I will give it to you to-morrow.


lord goring.  You know you are
lying.  Give it to me at once.  [mrs. cheveley pulls the letter out,
and hands it to himShe is horribly
pale
.]  This is it?


mrs. cheveley.  [In a
hoarse voice
.]  Yes.


lord goring.  [Takes the
letter
, examines it, sighs, and burns it
with the lamp
.]  For so well-dressed a woman, Mrs.
Cheveley, you have moments of admirable common sense.  I
congratulate you.


mrs. cheveley.  [Catches
sight of
lady chiltern’s
letter, the cover of which is just showing from under
the blotting-book
.]  Please get me a glass of water.


lord goring.  Certainly. 
[Goes to the corner of the room and pours out a glass of
water
While his back is turned mrs. cheveley steals lady chiltern’s letter
When lord goring returns the
glass she refuses it with a gesture
.]


mrs. cheveley.  Thank
you.  Will you help me on with my cloak?


lord goring.  With
pleasure.  [Puts her cloak on.]


mrs. cheveley.  Thanks. 
I am never going to try to harm Robert Chiltern again.


lord goring.  Fortunately you
have not the chance, Mrs. Cheveley.


mrs. cheveley.  Well, if even
I had the chance, I wouldn’t.  On the contrary, I am
going to render him a great service.


lord goring.  I am charmed to
hear it.  It is a reformation.


mrs. cheveley.  Yes.  I
can’t bear so upright a gentleman, so honourable an English
gentleman, being so shamefully deceived, and so—


lord goring.  Well?


mrs. cheveley.  I find that
somehow Gertrude Chiltern’s dying speech and confession has
strayed into my pocket.


lord goring.  What do you
mean?


mrs. cheveley.  [With a
bitter note of triumph in her voice
.]  I mean that I am
going to send Robert Chiltern the love-letter his wife wrote to
you to-night.


lord goring.  Love-letter?


mrs. cheveley
[Laughing.]  ‘I want you.  I trust
you.  I am coming to you.  Gertrude.’


[lord goring rushes to the
bureau and takes up the envelope
, finds is empty,
and turns round.]


lord goring.  You wretched
woman, must you always be thieving?  Give me back that
letter.  I’ll take it from you by force.  You
shall not leave my room till I have got it.


[He rushes towards her, but mrs. cheveley at once puts her hand on
the electric bell that is on the table
. The bell sounds
with shrill reverberations
, and phipps enters.]


mrs. cheveley.  [After a
pause
.]  Lord Goring merely rang that you should show me
out.  Good-night, Lord Goring!


[Goes out followed by phippsHer face is illumined with
evil triumph
There is joy in her eyes
Youth seems to have come back to herHer last
glance is like a swift arrow
lord
goring
bites his lip, and lights his a
cigarette
.]


Act
Drops


FOURTH ACT


SCENE


Same as Act II.


[lord goring is standing by the
fireplace with his hands in his pockets
He is
looking rather bored
.]


lord goring.  [Pulls out
his watch
, inspects it, and rings the
bell
.]  It is a great nuisance.  I can’t find
any one in this house to talk to.  And I am full of
interesting information.  I feel like the latest edition of
something or other.


[Enter servant.]


james.  Sir Robert is still at
the Foreign Office, my lord.


lord goring.  Lady Chiltern
not down yet?


james.  Her ladyship has not
yet left her room.  Miss Chiltern has just come in from
riding.


lord goring.  [To
himself
.]  Ah! that is something.


james.  Lord Caversham has
been waiting some time in the library for Sir Robert.  I
told him your lordship was here.


lord goring.  Thank you! 
Would you kindly tell him I’ve gone?


james.  [Bowing.] 
I shall do so, my lord.


[Exit servant.]


lord goring.  Really, I
don’t want to meet my father three days running.  It
is a great deal too much excitement for any son.  I hope to
goodness he won’t come up.  Fathers should be neither
seen nor heard.  That is the only proper basis for family
life.  Mothers are different.  Mothers are
darlings.  [Throws himself down into a chair,
picks up a paper and begins to read it.]


[Enter lord caversham.]


lord caversham.  Well, sir,
what are you doing here?  Wasting your time as usual, I
suppose?


lord goring.  [Throws down
paper and rises
.]  My dear father, when one pays a visit
it is for the purpose of wasting other people’s time, not
one’s own.


lord caversham.  Have you been
thinking over what I spoke to you about last night?


lord goring.  I have been
thinking about nothing else.


lord caversham.  Engaged to be
married yet?


lord goring
[Genially.]  Not yet: but I hope to be before
lunch-time.


lord caversham
[Caustically.]  You can have till dinner-time if it
would be of any convenience to you.


lord goring.  Thanks awfully,
but I think I’d sooner be engaged before lunch.


lord caversham.  Humph! 
Never know when you are serious or not.


lord goring.  Neither do I,
father.


[A pause.]


lord caversham.  I suppose you
have read The Times this morning?


lord goring
[Airily.]  The Times?  Certainly not.  I
only read The Morning Post.  All that one should know
about modern life is where the Duchesses are; anything else is
quite demoralising.


lord caversham.  Do you mean
to say you have not read The Times leading article on
Robert Chiltern’s career?


lord goring.  Good
heavens!  No.  What does it say?


lord caversham.  What should
it say, sir?  Everything complimentary, of course. 
Chiltern’s speech last night on this Argentine Canal scheme
was one of the finest pieces of oratory ever delivered in the
House since Canning.


lord goring.  Ah!  Never
heard of Canning.  Never wanted to.  And did . . . did
Chiltern uphold the scheme?


lord caversham.  Uphold it,
sir?  How little you know him!  Why, he denounced it
roundly, and the whole system of modern political finance. 
This speech is the turning-point in his career, as The
Times
points out.  You should read this article,
sir.  [Opens The Times.]  ‘Sir Robert
Chiltern . . . most rising of our young statesmen . . . Brilliant
orator . . . Unblemished career . . . Well-known integrity of
character . . . Represents what is best in English public life .
. . Noble contrast to the lax morality so common among foreign
politicians.’  They will never say that of you,
sir.


lord goring.  I sincerely hope
not, father.  However, I am delighted at what you tell me
about Robert, thoroughly delighted.  It shows he has got
pluck.


lord caversham.  He has got
more than pluck, sir, he has got genius.


lord goring.  Ah! I prefer
pluck.  It is not so common, nowadays, as genius is.


lord caversham.  I wish you
would go into Parliament.


lord goring.  My dear father,
only people who look dull ever get into the House of Commons, and
only people who are dull ever succeed there.


lord caversham.  Why
don’t you try to do something useful in life?


lord goring.  I am far too
young.


lord caversham
[Testily.]  I hate this affectation of youth,
sir.  It is a great deal too prevalent nowadays.


lord goring.  Youth
isn’t an affectation.  Youth is an art.


lord caversham.  Why
don’t you propose to that pretty Miss Chiltern?


lord goring.  I am of a very
nervous disposition, especially in the morning.


lord caversham.  I don’t
suppose there is the smallest chance of her accepting you.


lord goring.  I don’t
know how the betting stands to-day.


lord caversham.  If she did
accept you she would be the prettiest fool in England.


lord goring.  That is just
what I should like to marry.  A thoroughly sensible wife
would reduce me to a condition of absolute idiocy in less than
six months.


lord caversham.  You
don’t deserve her, sir.


lord goring.  My dear father,
if we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very
bad time of it.


[Enter mabel chiltern.]


mabel chiltern.  Oh! . . . How
do you do, Lord Caversham?  I hope Lady Caversham is quite
well?


lord caversham.  Lady
Caversham is as usual, as usual.


lord goring.  Good morning,
Miss Mabel!


mabel chiltern.  [Taking no
notice at all of
lord goring,
and addressing herself exclusively to lord caversham.]  And Lady
Caversham’s bonnets . . . are they at all better?


lord caversham.  They have had
a serious relapse, I am sorry to say.


lord goring.  Good morning,
Miss Mabel!


mabel chiltern.  [To
lord caversham.]  I hope an
operation will not be necessary.


lord caversham.  [Smiling
at her pertness
.]  If it is, we shall have to give Lady
Caversham a narcotic.  Otherwise she would never consent to
have a feather touched.


lord goring.  [With
increased emphasis
.]  Good morning, Miss Mabel!


mabel chiltern.  [Turning
round with feigned surprise
.]  Oh, are you here? 
Of course you understand that after your breaking your
appointment I am never going to speak to you again.


lord goring.  Oh, please
don’t say such a thing.  You are the one person in
London I really like to have to listen to me.


mabel chiltern.  Lord Goring,
I never believe a single word that either you or I say to each
other.


lord caversham.  You are quite
right, my dear, quite right . . . as far as he is concerned, I
mean.


mabel chiltern.  Do you think
you could possibly make your son behave a little better
occasionally?  Just as a change.


lord caversham.  I regret to
say, Miss Chiltern, that I have no influence at all over my
son.  I wish I had.  If I had, I know what I would make
him do.


mabel chiltern.  I am afraid
that he has one of those terribly weak natures that are not
susceptible to influence.


lord caversham.  He is very
heartless, very heartless.


lord goring.  It seems to me
that I am a little in the way here.


mabel chiltern.  It is very
good for you to be in the way, and to know what people say of you
behind your back.


lord goring.  I don’t at
all like knowing what people say of me behind my back.  It
makes me far too conceited.


lord caversham.  After that,
my dear, I really must bid you good morning.


mabel chiltern.  Oh! I hope
you are not going to leave me all alone with Lord Goring? 
Especially at such an early hour in the day.


lord caversham.  I am afraid I
can’t take him with me to Downing Street.  It is not
the Prime Minster’s day for seeing the unemployed.


[Shakes hands with mabel
chiltern
, takes up his hat and stick, and goes
out
, with a parting glare of indignation at lord goring.]


mabel chiltern.  [Takes up
roses and begins to arrange them in a bowl on the
table
.]  People who don’t keep their appointments
in the Park are horrid.


lord goring.  Detestable.


mabel chiltern.  I am glad you
admit it.  But I wish you wouldn’t look so pleased
about it.


lord goring.  I can’t
help it.  I always look pleased when I am with you.


mabel chiltern
[Sadly.]  Then I suppose it is my duty to remain with
you?


lord goring.  Of course it
is.


mabel chiltern.  Well, my duty
is a thing I never do, on principle.  It always depresses
me.  So I am afraid I must leave you.


lord goring.  Please
don’t, Miss Mabel.  I have something very particular
to say to you.


mabel chiltern
[Rapturously.]  Oh! is it a proposal?


lord goring.  [Somewhat
taken aback
.]  Well, yes, it is—I am bound to say
it is.


mabel chiltern.  [With a
sigh of pleasure
.]  I am so glad.  That makes the
second to-day.


lord goring
[Indignantly.]  The second to-day?  What
conceited ass has been impertinent enough to dare to propose to
you before I had proposed to you?


mabel chiltern.  Tommy
Trafford, of course.  It is one of Tommy’s days for
proposing.  He always proposes on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
during the Season.


lord goring.  You didn’t
accept him, I hope?


mabel chiltern.  I make it a
rule never to accept Tommy.  That is why he goes on
proposing.  Of course, as you didn’t turn up this
morning, I very nearly said yes.  It would have been an
excellent lesson both for him and for you if I had.  It
would have taught you both better manners.


lord goring.  Oh! bother Tommy
Trafford.  Tommy is a silly little ass.  I love
you.


mabel chiltern.  I know. 
And I think you might have mentioned it before.  I am sure I
have given you heaps of opportunities.


lord goring.  Mabel, do be
serious.  Please be serious.


mabel chiltern.  Ah! that is
the sort of thing a man always says to a girl before he has been
married to her.  He never says it afterwards.


lord goring.  [Taking hold
of her hand
.]  Mabel, I have told you that I love
you.  Can’t you love me a little in return?


mabel chiltern.  You silly
Arthur!  If you knew anything about . . . anything, which
you don’t, you would know that I adore you.  Every one
in London knows it except you.  It is a public scandal the
way I adore you.  I have been going about for the last six
months telling the whole of society that I adore you.  I
wonder you consent to have anything to say to me.  I have no
character left at all.  At least, I feel so happy that I am
quite sure I have no character left at all.


lord goring.  [Catches her
in his arms and kisses her
Then there is a pause of
bliss
.]  Dear!  Do you know I was awfully afraid of
being refused!


mabel chiltern.  [Looking
up at him
.]  But you never have been refused yet by
anybody, have you, Arthur?  I can’t imagine any one
refusing you.


lord goring.  [After
kissing her again
.]  Of course I’m not nearly good
enough for you, Mabel.


mabel chiltern.  [Nestling
close to him
.]  I am so glad, darling.  I was
afraid you were.


lord goring.  [After some
hesitation
.]  And I’m . . . I’m a little
over thirty.


mabel chiltern.  Dear, you
look weeks younger than that.


lord goring
[Enthusiastically.]  How sweet of you to say so! . .
. And it is only fair to tell you frankly that I am fearfully
extravagant.


mabel chiltern.  But so am I,
Arthur.  So we’re sure to agree.  And now I must
go and see Gertrude.


lord goring.  Must you
really?  [Kisses her.]


mabel chiltern.  Yes.


lord goring.  Then do tell her
I want to talk to her particularly.  I have been waiting
here all the morning to see either her or Robert.


mabel chiltern.  Do you mean
to say you didn’t come here expressly to propose to me?


lord goring
[Triumphantly.]  No; that was a flash of genius.


mabel chiltern.  Your
first.


lord goring.  [With
determination
.]  My last.


mabel chiltern.  I am
delighted to hear it.  Now don’t stir. 
I’ll be back in five minutes.  And don’t fall
into any temptations while I am away.


lord goring.  Dear Mabel,
while you are away, there are none.  It makes me horribly
dependent on you.


[Enter lady chiltern.]


lady chiltern.  Good morning,
dear!  How pretty you are looking!


mabel chiltern.  How pale you
are looking, Gertrude!  It is most becoming!


lady chiltern.  Good morning,
Lord Goring!


lord goring
[Bowing.]  Good morning, Lady Chiltern!


mabel chiltern.  [Aside
to
lord goring.]  I shall be
in the conservatory under the second palm tree on the left.


lord goring.  Second on the
left?


mabel chiltern.  [With a
look of mock surprise
.]  Yes; the usual palm tree.


[Blows a kiss to him, unobserved by lady chiltern, and goes out.]


lord goring.  Lady Chiltern, I
have a certain amount of very good news to tell you.  Mrs.
Cheveley gave me up Robert’s letter last night, and I
burned it.  Robert is safe.


lady chiltern.  [Sinking on
the sofa
.]  Safe!  Oh! I am so glad of that. 
What a good friend you are to him—to us!


lord goring.  There is only
one person now that could be said to be in any danger.


lady chiltern.  Who is
that?


lord goring.  [Sitting down
beside her
.]  Yourself.


lady chiltern.  I?  In
danger?  What do you mean?


lord goring.  Danger is too
great a word.  It is a word I should not have used. 
But I admit I have something to tell you that may distress you,
that terribly distresses me.  Yesterday evening you wrote me
a very beautiful, womanly letter, asking me for my help. 
You wrote to me as one of your oldest friends, one of your
husband’s oldest friends.  Mrs. Cheveley stole that
letter from my rooms.


lady chiltern.  Well, what use
is it to her?  Why should she not have it?


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


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


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


lady chiltern.  At what hour
did this happen?


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


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


lord goring.  I think it is
better that he should know the exact truth.


lady chiltern
[Rising.]  Oh, I couldn’t, I
couldn’t!


lord goring.  May I do it?


lady chiltern.  No.


lord goring
[Gravely.]  You are wrong, Lady Chiltern.


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


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


lady chiltern.  Yes.


lord goring.  Who is with him
to-day?  Mr. Trafford, isn’t it?


lady chiltern.  No.  Mr.
Montford, I think.


lord goring.  You can trust
him?


lady chiltern.  [With a
gesture of despair
.]  Oh! how do I know?


lord goring.  He would do what
you asked him, wouldn’t he?


lady chiltern.  I think
so.


lord goring.  Your letter was
on pink paper.  He could recognise it without reading it,
couldn’t he?  By the colour?


lady chiltern.  I suppose
so.


lord goring.  Is he in the
house now?


lady chiltern.  Yes.


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


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


[Enter sir robert
chiltern
He has the letter in his hand,
and is reading itHe comes towards his wife,
not noticing lord
goring’s
presence.]


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


[lord goring, unseen by
sir robert chiltern, makes an
imploring sign to
lady chiltern
to accept the situation and sir
robert’s
error.]


lady chiltern.  Yes.


sir robert chiltern.  You
trust me, Gertrude?


lady chiltern.  Yes.


sir robert chiltern.  Ah! why
did you not add you loved me?


lady chiltern.  [Taking his
hand
.]  Because I loved you.


[lord goring passes into the
conservatory
.]


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


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


sir robert chiltern.  Are you
sure of this, Gertrude?


lady chiltern.  Yes; Lord
Goring has just told me.


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


lady chiltern.  He burned
it.


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


lady chiltern.  Yes; he is in
the conservatory.


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


lady chiltern.  Public honour
has been the result.


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


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


sir robert chiltern.  It is
much to surrender.


lady chiltern.  No; it will be
much to gain.


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


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


lady chiltern.  Oh! none,
Robert.


sir robert chiltern
[Sadly.]  And your ambition for me?  You used to
be ambitious for me.


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


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


sir robert chiltern
[Going towards him.]  Arthur, I have to thank you for
what you have done for me.  I don’t know how I can
repay you.  [Shakes hands with him.]


lord goring.  My dear fellow,
I’ll tell you at once.  At the present moment, under
the usual palm tree . . . I mean in the conservatory . . .


[Enter mason.]


mason.  Lord Caversham.


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


[Enter lord caversham
mason goes out.]


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


sir robert chiltern.  [With
a look of joy and triumph
.]  A seat in the Cabinet?


lord caversham.  Yes; here is
the Prime Minister’s letter.  [Hands
letter
.]


sir robert chiltern
[Takes letter and reads it.]  A seat in the
Cabinet!


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


lord goring.  I don’t
like principles, father.  I prefer prejudices.


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


sir robert chiltern.  I cannot
accept this offer, Lord Caversham.  I have made up my mind
to decline it.


lord caversham.  Decline it,
sir!


sir robert chiltern.  My
intention is to retire at once from public life.


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


lord goring.  No, father.


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


lady chiltern.  I think my
husband in right in his determination, Lord Caversham.  I
approve of it.


lord caversham.  You approve
of it?  Good heavens!


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


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


lady chiltern.  I may come
with you, Robert, may I not?


sir robert chiltern.  Yes,
Gertrude.


[lady chiltern goes out with
him
.]


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


lord goring.  It is not
idiocy, father, I assure you.


lord caversham.  What is it
then, sir?


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


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


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


lord caversham.  What,
sir?


lord goring.  I beg your
pardon, father, I forgot.  The conservatory, father, the
conservatory—there is some one there I want you to talk
to.


lord caversham.  What about,
sir?


lord goring.  About me,
father,


lord caversham
[Grimly.]  Not a subject on which much eloquence is
possible.


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


[lord caversham goes out into
the conservatory
lady
chiltern
enters.]


lord goring.  Lady Chiltern,
why are you playing Mrs. Cheveley’s cards?


lady chiltern
[Startled.]  I don’t understand you.


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


lady chiltern.  Lord
Goring?


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


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


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


lady chiltern.  We have both
been punished.  I set him up too high.


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


[Enter sir robert
chiltern
.]


sir robert chiltern
Gertrude, here is the draft of my letter.  Shall I read it
to you?


lady chiltern.  Let me see
it.


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


sir robert chiltern.  What are
you doing?


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


sir robert chiltern
Gertrude!  Gertrude!


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


sir robert chiltern
[Deeply overcome by emotion, embraces her.] 
My wife! my wife!  [To lord
goring
.]  Arthur, it seems that I am always to be in
your debt.


lord goring.  Oh dear no,
Robert.  Your debt is to Lady Chiltern, not to me!


sir robert chiltern.  I owe
you much.  And now tell me what you were going to ask me
just now as Lord Caversham came in.


lord goring.  Robert, you are
your sister’s guardian, and I want your consent to my
marriage with her.  That is all.


lady chiltern.  Oh, I am so
glad!  I am so glad!  [Shakes hands with lord goring.]


lord goring.  Thank you, Lady
Chiltern.


sir robert chiltern.  [With
a troubled look
.]  My sister to be your wife?


lord goring.  Yes.


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


lord goring.  Sacrificed!


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


lord goring.  But I love
Mabel.  No other woman has any place in my life.


lady chiltern.  Robert, if
they love each other, why should they not be married?


sir robert chiltern.  Arthur
cannot bring Mabel the love that she deserves.


lord goring.  What reason have
you for saying that?


sir robert chiltern
[After a pause.]  Do you really require me to tell
you?


lord goring.  Certainly I
do.


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


lord goring.  I have nothing
more to say.


lady chiltern.  Robert, it was
not Mrs. Cheveley whom Lord Goring expected last night.


sir robert chiltern.  Not Mrs.
Cheveley!  Who was it then?


lord goring.  Lady
Chiltern!


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


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


lady chiltern.  Let me write
yours.  It is you I trust and need.  You and none
else.


lord goring.  Well, really,
Lady Chiltern, I think I should have back my own letter.


lady chiltern
[Smiling.]  No; you shall have Mabel.  [Takes
the letter and writes her husband’s name on it
.]


lord goring.  Well, I hope she
hasn’t changed her mind.  It’s nearly twenty
minutes since I saw her last.


[Enter mabel chiltern
and lord caversham.]


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


lord goring.  Darling! 
[Kisses her.]


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


lord goring.  Certainly,
father!  And Chiltern’s been wise enough to accept the
seat in the Cabinet.


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


[Enter mason.]


mason.  Luncheon is on the
table, my Lady!


[mason goes out.]


mabel chiltern.  You’ll
stop to luncheon, Lord Caversham, won’t you?


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


lord goring.  Yes, father, I
prefer it domestic.


lord caversham.  And if you
don’t make this young lady an ideal husband, I’ll cut
you off with a shilling.


mabel chiltern.  An ideal
husband!  Oh, I don’t think I should like that. 
It sounds like something in the next world.


lord caversham.  What do you
want him to be then, dear?


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


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


[They all go out except sir robert
chiltern
He sinks in a chair, wrapt in
thought
After a little time lady chiltern returns to look for
him
.]


lady chiltern.  [Leaning
over the back of the chair
.]  Aren’t you coming
in, Robert?


sir robert chiltern
[Taking her hand.]  Gertrude, is it love you feel for
me, or is it pity merely?


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


Curtain

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