The Library in Lord Goring’s house. An 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 nothing. He 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 it. He 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]
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-room. PHIPPS 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 in. Lamia-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 face. She 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 retires. The 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 stops. The 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 moment. Then 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?
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 her. He 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 fails. LORD 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 awry. A 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 him. She 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 PHIPPS. Her face is illumined with evil triumph. There is joy in her eyes. Youth seems to have come back to her. Her last glance is like a swift arrow. LORD GORING bites his lip, and lights his cigarette.]