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    Act II

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    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    SCENE

    Drawing-room at Hunstanton, after dinner, lamps lit. Door L.C.
    Door R.C.

    [Ladies seated on sofas.]

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

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

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

    LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear!

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

    [Enter Servants with coffee.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Worn to shadows, dear?

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. [Takes coffee from Servant.] Really? And if
    they're not married?

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

    LADY STUTFIELD. [Refuses coffee.] But if they're in love with
    some one who, perhaps, is tied to another?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. So do I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LADY STUTFIELD. I adore silent men.

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

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. Life, Lady Stutfield, is simply a MAUVAIS QUART
    D'HEURE made up of exquisite moments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. How like the middle classes!

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

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

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

    LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear!

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

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

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

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

    LADY CAROLINE. He would probably be extremely realistic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LADY STUTFIELD. Not even to the Ideal Man?

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

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

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

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Oh, my dear!

    MRS. ALLONBY. [Going over to her.] What has happened? Do tell
    me.

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

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

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

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

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

    HESTER. I didn't believe any of it

    LADY HUNSTANTON. That is quite right, dear.

    HESTER. [Continuing.] I couldn't believe that any women could
    really hold such views of life as I have heard to-night from some
    of your guests. [An awkward pause.]

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

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

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

    HESTER. In America we have no lower classes.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Really? What a very strange arrangement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [MRS. ARBUTHNOT enters from terrace behind in a cloak with a lace
    veil over her head. She hears the last words and starts.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear young lady!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [Enter Footman.]

    Take Mrs. Arbuthnot's things.

    [Exit Footman with wraps.]

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

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

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

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

    LADY STUTFIELD. Do you really think so?

    MRS. ALLONBY. I was sure of it.

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have never met him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lady Cecilia?

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

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

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

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

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

    [Enter SIR JOHN and DOCTOR DAUBENY. SIR JOHN goes over to LADY
    STUTFIELD, DOCTOR DAUBENY to LADY HUNSTANTON.]

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

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

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

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

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

    LADY CAROLINE. [To her husband.] John! [SIR JOHN goes over to
    his wife. DOCTOR DAUBENY talks to LADY HUNSTANTON and MRS.
    ARBUTHNOT.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, Puritanism, of course.

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. A week.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. A week is more than enough.

    [Enter GERALD and LORD ALFRED.]

    GERALD. [Going to MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Dear mother!

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

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

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Not to-night, Gerald.

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

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

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. What a delightful mood you are in to-night!
    [Turns round and goes across with GERALD to MRS. ARBUTHNOT. When
    he sees her, he starts back in wonder. Then slowly his eyes turn
    towards GERALD.]

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

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Putting his hand on GERALD's shoulder.] Oh,
    Gerald and I are great friends already, Mrs . . . Arbuthnot.

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

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear boy!

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

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

    GERALD. Mother!

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

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

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

    GERALD. I hope so. [LORD ILLINGWORTH goes across to MRS.
    ARBUTHNOT.]

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. She is excessively handsome. [Looks at MRS.
    ARBUTHNOT.]

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ALLONBY. Aren't you coming?

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

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

    LADY CAROLINE. John!

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

    [Exit following the other guests. Sound of violin heard from
    music-room.]

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

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I suppose so - but why Gerald?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. What nonsense, Rachel!

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

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. OUR son.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will not let him go.

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

    [Enter GERALD.]

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

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have not, Gerald.

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

    GERALD. Why, mother?

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

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

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

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

    GERALD. Have you, mother? Do answer.

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

    GERALD. Mother?

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

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have no other reason.

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

    [Exit with GERALD. MRS. ARBUTHNOT is left alone. She stands
    immobile with a look of unutterable sorrow on her face.]

    ACT DROP
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