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    Act III

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    Chapter 4
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    SCENE

    The Picture Gallery at Hunstanton. Door at back leading on to
    terrace.

    [LORD ILLINGWORTH and GERALD, R.C. LORD ILLINGWORTH lolling on a
    sofa. GERALD in a chair.]

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Thoroughly sensible woman, your mother, Gerald.
    I knew she would come round in the end.

    GERALD. My mother is awfully conscientious, Lord Illingworth, and
    I know she doesn't think I am educated enough to be your secretary.
    She is perfectly right, too. I was fearfully idle when I was at
    school, and I couldn't pass an examination now to save my life.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear Gerald, examinations are of no value
    whatsoever. If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if
    he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.

    GERALD. But I am so ignorant of the world, Lord Illingworth.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Don't be afraid, Gerald. Remember that you've
    got on your side the most wonderful thing in the world - youth!
    There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to
    Life. The old are in life's lumber-room. But youth is the Lord of
    Life. Youth has a kingdom waiting for it. Every one is born a
    king, and most people die in exile, like most kings. To win back
    my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn't do - except take
    exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of the community.

    GERALD. But you don't call yourself old, Lord Illingworth?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I am old enough to be your father, Gerald.

    GERALD. I don't remember my father; he died years ago.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. So Lady Hunstanton told me.

    GERALD. It is very curious, my mother never talks to me about my
    father. I sometimes think she must have married beneath her.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Winces slightly.] Really? [Goes over and puts
    his hand on GERALD'S shoulder.] You have missed not having a
    father, I suppose, Gerald?

    GERALD. Oh, no; my mother has been so good to me. No one ever had
    such a mother as I have had.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I am quite sure of that. Still I should imagine
    that most mothers don't quite understand their sons. Don't
    realise, I mean, that a son has ambitions, a desire to see life, to
    make himself a name. After all, Gerald, you couldn't be expected
    to pass all your life in such a hole as Wrockley, could you?

    GERALD. Oh, no! It would be dreadful!

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. A mother's love is very touching, of course, but
    it is often curiously selfish. I mean, there is a good deal of
    selfishness in it.

    GERALD. [Slowly.] I suppose there is.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Your mother is a thoroughly good woman. But
    good women have such limited views of life, their horizon is so
    small, their interests are so petty, aren't they?

    GERALD. They are awfully interested, certainly, in things we don't
    care much about.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I suppose your mother is very religious, and
    that sort of thing.

    GERALD. Oh, yes, she's always going to church.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Ah! she is not modern, and to be modern is the
    only thing worth being nowadays. You want to be modern, don't you,
    Gerald? You want to know life as it really is. Not to be put of
    with any old-fashioned theories about life. Well, what you have to
    do at present is simply to fit yourself for the best society. A
    man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.
    The future belongs to the dandy. It is the exquisites who are
    going to rule.

    GERALD. I should like to wear nice things awfully, but I have
    always been told that a man should not think too much about his
    clothes.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. People nowadays are so absolutely superficial
    that they don't understand the philosophy of the superficial. By
    the way, Gerald, you should learn how to tie your tie better.
    Sentiment is all very well for the button-hole. But the essential
    thing for a necktie is style. A well-tied tie is the first serious
    step in life.

    GERALD. [Laughing.] I might be able to learn how to tie a tie,
    Lord Illingworth, but I should never be able to talk as you do. I
    don't know how to talk.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Oh! talk to every woman as if you loved her, and
    to every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first
    season you will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect
    social tact.

    GERALD. But it is very difficult to get into society isn't it?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. To get into the best society, nowadays, one has
    either to feed people, amuse people, or shock people - that is all!

    GERALD. I suppose society is wonderfully delightful!

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of
    it simply a tragedy. Society is a necessary thing. No man has any
    real success in this world unless he has got women to back him, and
    women rule society. If you have not got women on your side you are
    quite over. You might just as well be a barrister, or a
    stockbroker, or a journalist at once.

    GERALD. It is very difficult to understand women, is it not?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. You should never try to understand them. Women
    are pictures. Men are problems. If you want to know what a woman
    really means - which, by the way, is always a dangerous thing to do
    - look at her, don't listen to her.

    GERALD. But women are awfully clever, aren't they?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should always tell them so. But, to the
    philosopher, my dear Gerald, women represent the triumph of matter
    over mind - just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.

    GERALD. How then can women have so much power as you say they
    have?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. The history of women is the history of the worst
    form of tyranny the world has ever known. The tyranny of the weak
    over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts.

    GERALD. But haven't women got a refining influence?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Nothing refines but the intellect.

    GERALD. Still, there are many different kinds of women, aren't
    there?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Only two kinds in society: the plain and the
    coloured.

    GERALD. But there are good women in society, aren't there?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Far too many.

    GERALD. But do you think women shouldn't be good?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should never tell them so, they'd all become
    good at once. Women are a fascinatingly wilful sex. Every woman
    is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself.

    GERALD. You have never been married, Lord Illingworth, have you?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Men marry because they are tired; women because
    they are curious. Both are disappointed.

    GERALD. But don't you think one can be happy when one is married?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Perfectly happy. But the happiness of a married
    man, my dear Gerald, depends on the people he has not married.

    GERALD. But if one is in love?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should always be in love. That is the
    reason one should never marry.

    GERALD. Love is a very wonderful thing, isn't it?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. When one is in love one begins by deceiving
    oneself. And one ends by deceiving others. That is what the world
    calls a romance. But a really GRANDE PASSION is comparatively rare
    nowadays. It is the privilege of people who have nothing to do.
    That is the one use of the idle classes in a country, and the only
    possible explanation of us Harfords.

    GERALD. Harfords, Lord Illingworth?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. That is my family name. You should study the
    Peerage, Gerald. It is the one book a young man about town should
    know thoroughly, and it is the best thing in fiction the English
    have ever done. And now, Gerald, you are going into a perfectly
    new life with me, and I want you to know how to live. [MRS.
    ARBUTHNOT appears on terrace behind.] For the world has been made
    by fools that wise men should live in it!

    [Enter L.C. LADY HUNSTANTON and DR. DAUBENY.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! here you are, dear Lord Illingworth. Well, I
    suppose you have been telling our young friend, Gerald, what his
    new duties are to be, and giving him a great deal of good advice
    over a pleasant cigarette.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I have been giving him the best of advice, Lady
    Hunstanton, and the best of cigarettes.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. I am so sorry I was not here to listen to you,
    but I suppose I am too old now to learn. Except from you, dear
    Archdeacon, when you are in your nice pulpit. But then I always
    know what you are going to say, so I don't feel alarmed. [Sees
    MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Ah! dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, do come and join us.
    Come, dear. [Enter MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Gerald has been having such a
    long talk with Lord Illingworth; I am sure you must feel very much
    flattered at the pleasant way in which everything has turned out
    for him. Let us sit down. [They sit down.] And how is your
    beautiful embroidery going on?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I am always at work, Lady Hunstanton.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Mrs. Daubeny embroiders a little, too, doesn't
    she?

    THE ARCHDEACON. She was very deft with her needle once, quite a
    Dorcas. But the gout has crippled her fingers a good deal. She
    has not touched the tambour frame for nine or ten years. But she
    has many other amusements. She is very much interested in her own
    health.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! that is always a nice distraction, in it not?
    Now, what are you talking about, Lord Illingworth? Do tell us.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I was on the point of explaining to Gerald that
    the world has always laughed at its own tragedies, that being the
    only way in which it has been able to bear them. And that,
    consequently, whatever the world has treated seriously belongs to
    the comedy side of things.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Now I am quite out of my depth. I usually am
    when Lord Illingworth says anything. And the Humane Society is
    most careless. They never rescue me. I am left to sink. I have a
    dim idea, dear Lord Illingworth, that you are always on the side of
    the sinners, and I know I always try to be on the side of the
    saints, but that is as far as I get. And after all, it may be
    merely the fancy of a drowning person.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. The only difference between the saint and the
    sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a
    future.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! that quite does for me. I haven't a word to
    say. You and I, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, are behind the age. We can't
    follow Lord Illingworth. Too much care was taken with our
    education, I am afraid. To have been well brought up is a great
    drawback nowadays. It shuts one out from so much.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I should be sorry to follow Lord Illingworth in
    any of his opinions.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. You are quite right, dear.

    [GERALD shrugs his shoulders and looks irritably over at his
    mother. Enter LADY CAROLINE.]

    LADY CAROLINE. Jane, have you seen John anywhere?

    LADY HUNSTANTON. You needn't be anxious about him, dear. He is
    with Lady Stutfield; I saw them some time ago, in the Yellow
    Drawing-room. They seem quite happy together. You are not going,
    Caroline? Pray sit down.

    LADY CAROLINE. I think I had better look after John.

    [Exit LADY CAROLINE.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. It doesn't do to pay men so much attention. And
    Caroline has really nothing to be anxious about. Lady Stutfield is
    very sympathetic. She is just as sympathetic about one thing as
    she is about another. A beautiful nature.

    [Enter SIR JOHN and MRS. ALLONBY.]

    Ah! here is Sir John! And with Mrs. Allonby too! I suppose it was
    Mrs. Allonby I saw him with. Sir John, Caroline has been looking
    everywhere for you.

    MRS. ALLONBY. We have been waiting for her in the Music-room, dear
    Lady Hunstanton.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! the Music-room, of course. I thought it was
    the Yellow Drawing-room, my memory is getting so defective. [To
    the ARCHDEACON.] Mrs. Daubeny has a wonderful memory, hasn't she?

    THE ARCHDEACON. She used to be quite remarkable for her memory,
    but since her last attack she recalls chiefly the events of her
    early childhood. But she finds great pleasure in such
    retrospections, great pleasure.

    [Enter LADY STUTFIELD and MR. KELVIL.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! dear Lady Stutfield! and what has Mr. Kelvil
    been talking to you about?

    LADY STUTFIELD. About Bimetallism, as well as I remember.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Bimetallism! Is that quite a nice subject?
    However, I know people discuss everything very freely nowadays.
    What did Sir John talk to you about, dear Mrs. Allonby?

    MRS. ALLONBY. About Patagonia.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Really? What a remote topic! But very
    improving, I have no doubt.

    MRS. ALLONBY. He has been most interesting on the subject of
    Patagonia. Savages seem to have quite the same views as cultured
    people on almost all subjects. They are excessively advanced.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. What do they do?

    MRS. ALLONBY. Apparently everything.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, it is very gratifying, dear Archdeacon, is
    it not, to find that Human Nature is permanently one. - On the
    whole, the world is the same world, is it not?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. The world is simply divided into two classes -
    those who believe the incredible, like the public - and those who
    do the improbable -

    MRS. ALLONBY. Like yourself?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Yes; I am always astonishing myself. It is the
    only thing that makes life worth living.

    LADY STUTFIELD. And what have you been doing lately that
    astonishes you?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I have been discovering all kinds of beautiful
    qualities in my own nature.

    MRS. ALLONBY. Ah! don't become quite perfect all at once. Do it
    gradually!

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. I don't intend to grow perfect at all. At
    least, I hope I shan't. It would be most inconvenient. Women love
    us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive
    us everything, even our gigantic intellects.

    MRS. ALLONBY. It is premature to ask us to forgive analysis. We
    forgive adoration; that is quite as much as should be expected from
    us.

    [Enter LORD ALFRED. He joins LADY STUTFIELD.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! we women should forgive everything, shouldn't
    we, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot? I am sure you agree with me in that.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I do not, Lady Hunstanton. I think there are many
    things women should never forgive.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. What sort of things?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. The ruin of another woman's life.

    [Moves slowly away to back of stage.]

    LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! those things are very sad, no doubt, but I
    believe there are admirable homes where people of that kind are
    looked after and reformed, and I think on the whole that the secret
    of life is to take things very, very easily.

    MRS. ALLONBY. The secret of life is never to have an emotion that
    is unbecoming.

    LADY STUTFIELD. The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure
    of being terribly, terribly deceived.

    KELVIL. The secret of life is to resist temptation, Lady
    Stutfield.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. There is no secret of life. Life's aim, if it
    has one, is simply to be always looking for temptations. There are
    not nearly enough. I sometimes pass a whole day without coming
    across a single one. It is quite dreadful. It makes one so
    nervous about the future.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. [Shakes her fan at him.] I don't know how it is,
    dear Lord Illingworth, but everything you have said to-day seems to
    me excessively immoral. It has been most interesting, listening to
    you.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. All thought is immoral. Its very essence is
    destruction. If you think of anything, you kill it. Nothing
    survives being thought of.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. I don't understand a word, Lord Illingworth. But
    I have no doubt it is all quite true. Personally, I have very
    little to reproach myself with, on the score of thinking. I don't
    believe in women thinking too much. Women should think in
    moderation, as they should do all things in moderation.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Moderation is a fatal thing, Lady Hunstanton.
    Nothing succeeds like excess.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. I hope I shall remember that. It sounds an
    admirable maxim. But I'm beginning to forget everything. It's a
    great misfortune.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is one of your most fascinating qualities,
    Lady Hunstanton. No woman should have a memory. Memory in a woman
    is the beginning of dowdiness. One can always tell from a woman's
    bonnet whether she has got a memory or not.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. How charming you are, dear Lord Illingworth. You
    always find out that one's most glaring fault is one's most
    important virtue. You have the most comforting views of life.

    [Enter FARQUHAR.]

    FARQUHAR. Doctor Daubeny's carriage!

    LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear Archdeacon! It is only half-past ten.

    THE ARCHDEACON. [Rising.] I am afraid I must go, Lady Hunstanton.
    Tuesday is always one of Mrs. Daubeny's bad nights.

    LADY HUNSTANTON. [Rising.] Well, I won't keep you from her.
    [Goes with him towards door.] I have told Farquhar to put a brace
    of partridge into the carriage. Mrs. Daubeny may fancy them.

    THE ARCHDEACON. It is very kind of you, but Mrs. Daubeny never
    touches solids now. Lives entirely on jellies. But she is
    wonderfully cheerful, wonderfully cheerful. She has nothing to
    complain of.

    [Exit with LADY HUNSTANTON.]

    MRS. ALLONBY. [Goes over to LORD ILLINGWORTH.] There is a
    beautiful moon to-night.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Let us go and look at it. To look at anything
    that is inconstant is charming nowadays.

    MRS. ALLONBY. You have your looking-glass.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is unkind. It merely shows me my wrinkles.

    MRS. ALLONBY. Mine is better behaved. It never tells me the
    truth.

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Then it is in love with you.

    [Exeunt SIR JOHN, LADY STUTFIELD, MR. KELVIL and LORD ALFRED.]

    GERALD. [To LORD ILLINGWORTH] May I come too?

    LORD ILLINGWORTH. Do, my dear boy. [Moves towards with MRS.
    ALLONBY and GERALD.]

    [LADY CAROLINE enters, looks rapidly round and goes off in opposite
    direction to that taken by SIR JOHN and LADY STUTFIELD.]

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald!

    GERALD. What, mother!

    [Exit LORD ILLINGWORTH with MRS. ALLONBY.]

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is getting late. Let us go home.

    GERALD. My dear mother. Do let us wait a little longer. Lord
    Illingworth is so delightful, and, by the way, mother, I have a
    great surprise for you. We are starting for India at the end of
    this month.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Let us go home.

    GERALD. If you really want to, of course, mother, but I must bid
    good-bye to Lord Illingworth first. I'll be back in five minutes.
    [Exit.]

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Let him leave me if he chooses, but not with him -
    not with him! I couldn't bear it. [Walks up and down.]

    [Enter HESTER.]

    HESTER. What a lovely night it is, Mrs. Arbuthnot.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Is it?

    HESTER. Mrs. Arbuthnot, I wish you would let us be friends. You
    are so different from the other women here. When you came into the
    Drawing-room this evening, somehow you brought with you a sense of
    what is good and pure in life. I had been foolish. There are
    things that are right to say, but that may be said at the wrong
    time and to the wrong people.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I heard what you said. I agree with it, Miss
    Worsley.

    HESTER. I didn't know you had heard it. But I knew you would
    agree with me. A woman who has sinned should be punished,
    shouldn't she?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.

    HESTER. She shouldn't be allowed to come into the society of good
    men and women?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. She should not.

    HESTER. And the man should be punished in the same way?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. In the same way. And the children, if there are
    children, in the same way also?

    HESTER. Yes, it is right that the sins of the parents should be
    visited on the children. It is a just law. It is God's law.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is one of God's terrible laws.

    [Moves away to fireplace.]

    HESTER. You are distressed about your son leaving you, Mrs.
    Arbuthnot?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.

    HESTER. Do you like him going away with Lord Illingworth? Of
    course there is position, no doubt, and money, but position and
    money are not everything, are they?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. They are nothing; they bring misery.

    HESTER. Then why do you let your son go with him?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He wishes it himself.

    HESTER. But if you asked him he would stay, would he not?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He has set his heart on going.

    HESTER. He couldn't refuse you anything. He loves you too much.
    Ask him to stay. Let me send him in to you. He is on the terrace
    at this moment with Lord Illingworth. I heard them laughing
    together as I passed through the Music-room.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Don't trouble, Miss Worsley, I can wait. It is of
    no consequence.

    HESTER. No, I'll tell him you want him. Do - do ask him to stay.
    [Exit HESTER.]

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He won't come - I know he won't come.

    [Enter LADY CAROLINE. She looks round anxiously. Enter GERALD.]

    LADY CAROLINE. Mr. Arbuthnot, may I ask you is Sir John anywhere
    on the terrace?

    GERALD. No, Lady Caroline, he is not on the terrace.

    LADY CAROLINE. It is very curious. It is time for him to retire.

    [Exit LADY CAROLINE.]

    GERALD. Dear mother, I am afraid I kept you waiting. I forgot all
    about it. I am so happy to-night, mother; I have never been so
    happy.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. At the prospect of going away?

    GERALD. Don't put it like that, mother. Of course I am sorry to
    leave you. Why, you are the best mother in the whole world. But
    after all, as Lord Illingworth says, it is impossible to live in
    such a place as Wrockley. You don't mind it. But I'm ambitions; I
    want something more than that. I want to have a career. I want to
    do something that will make you proud of me, and Lord Illingworth
    is going to help me. He is going to do everything for me.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald, don't go away with Lord Illingworth. I
    implore you not to. Gerald, I beg you!

    GERALD. Mother, how changeable you are! You don't seem to know
    your own mind for a single moment. An hour and a half ago in the
    Drawing-room you agreed to the whole thing; now you turn round and
    make objections, and try to force me to give up my one chance in
    life. Yes, my one chance. You don't suppose that men like Lord
    Illingworth are to be found every day, do you, mother? It is very
    strange that when I have had such a wonderful piece of good luck,
    the one person to put difficulties in my way should be my own
    mother. Besides, you know, mother, I love Hester Worsley. Who
    could help loving her? I love her more than I have ever told you,
    far more. And if I had a position, if I had prospects, I could - I
    could ask her to - Don't you understand now, mother, what it means
    to me to be Lord Illingworth's secretary? To start like that is to
    find a career ready for one - before one - waiting for one. If I
    were Lord Illingworth's secretary I could ask Hester to be my wife.
    As a wretched bank clerk with a hundred a year it would be an
    impertinence.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I fear you need have no hopes of Miss Worsley. I
    know her views on life. She has just told them to me. [A pause.]

    GERALD. Then I have my ambition left, at any rate. That is
    something - I am glad I have that! You have always tried to crush
    my ambition, mother - haven't you? You have told me that the world
    is a wicked place, that success is not worth having, that society
    is shallow, and all that sort of thing - well, I don't believe it,
    mother. I think the world must be delightful. I think society
    must be exquisite. I think success is a thing worth having. You
    have been wrong in all that you taught me, mother, quite wrong.
    Lord Illingworth is a successful man. He is a fashionable man. He
    is a man who lives in the world and for it. Well, I would give
    anything to be just like Lord Illingworth.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I would sooner see you dead.

    GERALD. Mother, what is your objection to Lord Illingworth? Tell
    me - tell me right out. What is it?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He is a bad man.

    GERALD. In what way bad? I don't understand what you mean.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will tell you.

    GERALD. I suppose you think him bad, because he doesn't believe
    the same things as you do. Well, men are different from women,
    mother. It is natural that they should have different views.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is not what Lord Illingworth believes, or what
    he does not believe, that makes him bad. It is what he is.

    GERALD. Mother, is it something you know of him? Something you
    actually know?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is something I know.

    GERALD. Something you are quite sure of?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Quite sure of.

    GERALD. How long have you known it?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. For twenty years.

    GERALD. Is it fair to go back twenty years in any man's career?
    And what have you or I to do with Lord Illingworth's early life?
    What business is it of ours?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. What this man has been, he is now, and will be
    always.

    GERALD. Mother, tell me what Lord Illingworth did? If he did
    anything shameful, I will not go away with him. Surely you know me
    well enough for that?

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald, come near to me. Quite close to me, as
    you used to do when you were a little boy, when you were mother's
    own boy. [GERALD sits down betide his mother. She runs her
    fingers through his hair, and strokes his hands.] Gerald, there
    was a girl once, she was very young, she was little over eighteen
    at the time. George Harford - that was Lord Illingworth's name
    then - George Harford met her. She knew nothing about life. He -
    knew everything. He made this girl love him. He made her love him
    so much that she left her father's house with him one morning. She
    loved him so much, and he had promised to marry her! He had
    solemnly promised to marry her, and she had believed him. She was
    very young, and - and ignorant of what life really is. But he put
    the marriage off from week to week, and month to month. - She
    trusted in him all the while. She loved him. - Before her child
    was born - for she had a child - she implored him for the child's
    sake to marry her, that the child might have a name, that her sin
    might not be visited on the child, who was innocent. He refused.
    After the child was born she left him, taking the child away, and
    her life was ruined, and her soul ruined, and all that was sweet,
    and good, and pure in her ruined also. She suffered terribly - she
    suffers now. She will always suffer. For her there is no joy, no
    peace, no atonement. She is a woman who drags a chain like a
    guilty thing. She is a woman who wears a mask, like a thing that
    is a leper. The fire cannot purify her. The waters cannot quench
    her anguish. Nothing can heal her! no anodyne can give her sleep!
    no poppies forgetfulness! She is lost! She is a lost soul! - That
    is why I call Lord Illingworth a bad man. That is why I don't want
    my boy to be with him.

    GERALD. My dear mother, it all sounds very tragic, of course. But
    I dare say the girl was just as much to blame as Lord Illingworth
    was. - After all, would a really nice girl, a girl with any nice
    feelings at all, go away from her home with a man to whom she was
    not married, and live with him as his wife? No nice girl would.

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [After a pause.] Gerald, I withdraw all my
    objections. You are at liberty to go away with Lord Illingworth,
    when and where you choose.

    GERALD. Dear mother, I knew you wouldn't stand in my way. You are
    the best woman God ever made. And, as for Lord Illingworth, I
    don't believe he is capable of anything infamous or base. I can't
    believe it of him - I can't.

    HESTER. [Outside.] Let me go! Let me go! [Enter HESTER in
    terror, and rushes over to GERALD and flings herself in his arms.]

    HESTER. Oh! save me - save me from him!

    GERALD. From whom?

    HESTER. He has insulted me! Horribly insulted me! Save me!

    GERALD. Who? Who has dared - ?

    [LORD ILLINGWORTH enters at back of stage. HESTER breaks from
    GERALD'S arms and points to him.]

    GERALD [He is quite beside himself with rage and indignation.]
    Lord Illingworth, you have insulted the purest thing on God's
    earth, a thing as pure as my own mother. You have insulted the
    woman I love most in the world with my own mother. As there is a
    God in Heaven, I will kill you!

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Rushing across and catching hold of him] No! no!

    GERALD. [Thrusting her back.] Don't hold me, mother. Don't hold
    me - I'll kill him!

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald!

    GERALD. Let me go, I say!

    MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Stop, Gerald, stop! He is your own father!

    [GERALD clutches his mother's hands and looks into her face. She
    sinks slowly on the ground in shame. HESTER steals towards the
    door. LORD ILLINGWORTH frowns and bites his lip. After a time
    GERALD raises his mother up, puts his am round her, and leads her
    from the room.]

    ACT DROP
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