Same as Act II.
[LORD GORING is standing by the fireplace with his hands in his pockets. He is looking rather bored.]
LORD GORING. [Pulls out his watch, inspects it, and rings the bell.] It is a great nuisance. I can't find any one in this house to talk to. And I am full of interesting information. I feel like the latest edition of something or other.
JAMES. Sir Robert is still at the Foreign Office, my lord.
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern not down yet?
JAMES. Her ladyship has not yet left her room. Miss Chiltern has just come in from riding.
LORD GORING. [To himself.] Ah! that is something.
JAMES. Lord Caversham has been waiting some time in the library for Sir Robert. I told him your lordship was here.
LORD GORING. Thank you! Would you kindly tell him I've gone?
JAMES. [Bowing.] I shall do so, my lord.
LORD GORING. Really, I don't want to meet my father three days running. It is a great deal too much excitement for any son. I hope to goodness he won't come up. Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basin for family life. Mothers are different. Mothers are darlings. [Throws himself down into a chair, picks up a paper and begins to read it.]
[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, what are you doing here? Wasting your time as usual, I suppose?
LORD GORING. [Throws down paper and rises.] My dear father, when one pays a visit it is for the purpose of wasting other people's time, not one's own.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Have you been thinking over what I spoke to you about last night?
LORD GORING. I have been thinking about nothing else.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Engaged to be married yet?
LORD GORING. [Genially.] Not yet: but I hope to be before lunch- time.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Caustically.] You can have till dinner-time if it would be of any convenience to you.
LORD GORING. Thanks awfully, but I think I'd sooner be engaged before lunch.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Humph! Never know when you are serious or not.
LORD GORING. Neither do I, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I suppose you have read THE TIMES this morning?
LORD GORING. [Airily.] THE TIMES? Certainly not. I only read THE MORNING POST. All that one should know about modern life is where the Duchesses are; anything else is quite demoralising.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Do you mean to say you have not read THE TIMES leading article on Robert Chiltern's career?
LORD GORING. Good heavens! No. What does it say?
LORD CAVERSHAM. What should it say, sir? Everything complimentary, of course. Chiltern's speech last night on this Argentine Canal scheme was one of the finest pieces of oratory ever delivered in the House since Canning.
LORD GORING. Ah! Never heard of Canning. Never wanted to. And did
. . . did Chiltern uphold the scheme?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Uphold it, sir? How little you know him! Why, he denounced it roundly, and the whole system of modern political finance. This speech is the turning-point in his career, as THE TIMES points out. You should read this article, sir. [Opens THE TIMES.] 'Sir Robert Chiltern . . . most rising of our young statesmen . . . Brilliant orator . . . Unblemished career . . . Well- known integrity of character . . . Represents what is best in English public life . . . Noble contrast to the lax morality so common among foreign politicians.' They will never say that of you, sir.
LORD GORING. I sincerely hope not, father. However, I am delighted at what you tell me about Robert, thoroughly delighted. It shows he has got pluck.
LORD CAVERSHAM. He has got more than pluck, sir, he has got genius.
LORD GORING. Ah! I prefer pluck. It is not so common, nowadays, as genius is.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I wish you would go into Parliament.
LORD GORING. My dear father, only people who look dull ever get into the House of Commons, and only people who are dull ever succeed there.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Why don't you try to do something useful in life?
LORD GORING. I am far too young.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Testily.] I hate this affectation of youth, sir. It is a great deal too prevalent nowadays.
LORD GORING. Youth isn't an affectation. Youth is an art.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Why don't you propose to that pretty Miss Chiltern?
LORD GORING. I am of a very nervous disposition, especially in the morning.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I don't suppose there is the smallest chance of her accepting you.
LORD GORING. I don't know how the betting stands to-day.
LORD CAVERSHAM. If she did accept you she would be the prettiest fool in England.
LORD GORING. That is just what I should like to marry. A thoroughly sensible wife would reduce me to a condition of absolute idiocy in less than six months.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You don't deserve her, sir.
LORD GORING. My dear father, if we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! . . . How do you do, Lord Caversham? I hope Lady Caversham is quite well?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Lady Caversham is as usual, as usual.
LORD GORING. Good morning, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Taking no notice at all of LORD GORING, and addressing herself exclusively to LORD CAVERSHAM.] And Lady Caversham's bonnets . . . are they at all better?
LORD CAVERSHAM. They have had a serious relapse, I am sorry to say.
LORD GORING. Good morning, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. [To LORD CAVERSHAM.] I hope an operation will not be necessary.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Smiling at her pertness.] If it is, we shall have to give Lady Caversham a narcotic. Otherwise she would never consent to have a feather touched.
LORD GORING. [With increased emphasis.] Good morning, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Turning round with feigned surprise.] Oh, are you here? Of course you understand that after your breaking your appointment I am never going to speak to you again.
LORD GORING. Oh, please don't say such a thing. You are the one person in London I really like to have to listen to me.
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, I never believe a single word that either you or I say to each other.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You are quite right, my dear, quite right . . . as far as he is concerned, I mean.
MABEL CHILTERN. Do you think you could possibly make your son behave a little better occasionally? Just as a change.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I regret to say, Miss Chiltern, that I have no influence at all over my son. I wish I had. If I had, I know what I would make him do.
MABEL CHILTERN. I am afraid that he has one of those terribly weak natures that are not susceptible to influence.
LORD CAVERSHAM. He is very heartless, very heartless.
LORD GORING. It seems to me that I am a little in the way here.
MABEL CHILTERN. It is very good for you to be in the way, and to know what people say of you behind your back.
LORD GORING. I don't at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.
LORD CAVERSHAM. After that, my dear, I really must bid you good morning.
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I hope you are not going to leave me all alone with Lord Goring? Especially at such an early hour in the day.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I am afraid I can't take him with me to Downing Street. It is not the Prime Minster's day for seeing the unemployed.
[Shakes hands with MABEL CHILTERN, takes up his hat and stick, and goes out, with a parting glare of indignation at LORD GORING.]
MABEL CHILTERN. [Takes up roses and begins to arrange them in a bowl on the table.] People who don't keep their appointments in the Park are horrid.
LORD GORING. Detestable.
MABEL CHILTERN. I am glad you admit it. But I wish you wouldn't look so pleased about it.
LORD GORING. I can't help it. I always look pleased when I am with you.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Sadly.] Then I suppose it is my duty to remain with you?
LORD GORING. Of course it is.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, my duty is a thing I never do, on principle. It always depresses me. So I am afraid I must leave you.
LORD GORING. Please don't, Miss Mabel. I have something very particular to say to you.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Rapturously.] Oh! is it a proposal?
LORD GORING. [Somewhat taken aback.] Well, yes, it is - I am bound to say it is.
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a sigh of pleasure.] I am so glad. That makes the second to-day.
LORD GORING. [Indignantly.] The second to-day? What conceited ass has been impertinent enough to dare to propose to you before I had proposed to you?
MABEL CHILTERN. Tommy Trafford, of course. It is one of Tommy's days for proposing. He always proposes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, during the Season.
LORD GORING. You didn't accept him, I hope?
MABEL CHILTERN. I make it a rule never to accept Tommy. That is why he goes on proposing. Of course, as you didn't turn up this morning, I very nearly said yes. It would have been an excellent lesson both for him and for you if I had. It would have taught you both better manners.
LORD GORING. Oh! bother Tommy Trafford. Tommy is a silly little ass. I love you.
MABEL CHILTERN. I know. And I think you might have mentioned it before. I am sure I have given you heaps of opportunities.
LORD GORING. Mabel, do be serious. Please be serious.
MABEL CHILTERN. Ah! that is the sort of thing a man always says to a girl before he has been married to her. He never says it afterwards.
LORD GORING. [Taking hold of her hand.] Mabel, I have told you that I love you. Can't you love me a little in return?
MABEL CHILTERN. You silly Arthur! If you knew anything about . . . anything, which you don't, you would know that I adore you. Every one in London knows it except you. It is a public scandal the way I adore you. I have been going about for the last six months telling the whole of society that I adore you. I wonder you consent to have anything to say to me. I have no character left at all. At least, I feel so happy that I am quite sure I have no character left at all.
LORD GORING. [Catches her in his arms and kisses her. Then there is a pause of bliss.] Dear! Do you know I was awfully afraid of being refused!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Looking up at him.] But you never have been refused yet by anybody, have you, Arthur? I can't imagine any one refusing you.
LORD GORING. [After kissing her again.] Of course I'm not nearly good enough for you, Mabel.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Nestling close to him.] I am so glad, darling. I was afraid you were.
LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] And I'm . . . I'm a little over thirty.
MABEL CHILTERN. Dear, you look weeks younger than that.
LORD GORING. [Enthusiastically.] How sweet of you to say so! . . . And it is only fair to tell you frankly that I am fearfully extravagant.
MABEL CHILTERN. But so am I, Arthur. So we're sure to agree. And now I must go and see Gertrude.
LORD GORING. Must you really? [Kisses her.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Yes.
LORD GORING. Then do tell her I want to talk to her particularly. I have been waiting here all the morning to see either her or Robert.
MABEL CHILTERN. Do you mean to say you didn't come here expressly to propose to me?
LORD GORING. [Triumphantly.] No; that was a flash of genius.
MABEL CHILTERN. Your first.
LORD GORING. [With determination.] My last.
MABEL CHILTERN. I am delighted to hear it. Now don't stir. I'll be back in five minutes. And don't fall into any temptations while I am away.
LORD GORING. Dear Mabel, while you are away, there are none. It makes me horribly dependent on you.
[Enter LADY CHILTERN.]
LADY CHILTERN. Good morning, dear! How pretty you are looking!
MABEL CHILTERN. How pale you are looking, Gertrude! It is most becoming!
LADY CHILTERN. Good morning, Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. [Bowing.] Good morning, Lady Chiltern!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Aside to LORD GORING.] I shall be in the conservatory under the second palm tree on the left.
LORD GORING. Second on the left?
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a look of mock surprise.] Yes; the usual palm tree.
[Blows a kiss to him, unobserved by LADY CHILTERN, and goes out.]
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, I have a certain amount of very good news to tell you. Mrs. Cheveley gave me up Robert's letter last night, and I burned it. Robert is safe.
LADY CHILTERN. [Sinking on the sofa.] Safe! Oh! I am so glad of that. What a good friend you are to him - to us!
LORD GORING. There is only one person now that could be said to be in any danger.
LADY CHILTERN. Who is that?
LORD GORING. [Sitting down beside her.] Yourself.
LADY CHILTERN. I? In danger? What do you mean?
LORD GORING. Danger is too great a word. It is a word I should not have used. But I admit I have something to tell you that may distress you, that terribly distresses me. Yesterday evening you wrote me a very beautiful, womanly letter, asking me for my help. You wrote to me as one of your oldest friends, one of your husband's oldest friends. Mrs. Cheveley stole that letter from my rooms.
LADY CHILTERN. Well, what use is it to her? Why should she not have it?
LORD GORING. [Rising.] Lady Chiltern, I will be quite frank with you. Mrs. Cheveley puts a certain construction on that letter and proposes to send it to your husband.
LADY CHILTERN. But what construction could she put on it? . . . Oh! not that! not that! If I in - in trouble, and wanting your help, trusting you, propose to come to you . . . that you may advise me . .
. assist me . . . Oh! are there women so horrible as that . . .? And she proposes to send it to my husband? Tell me what happened. Tell me all that happened.
LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley was concealed in a room adjoining my library, without my knowledge. I thought that the person who was waiting in that room to see me was yourself. Robert came in unexpectedly. A chair or something fell in the room. He forced his way in, and he discovered her. We had a terrible scene. I still thought it was you. He left me in anger. At the end of everything Mrs. Cheveley got possession of your letter - she stole it, when or how, I don't know.
LADY CHILTERN. At what hour did this happen?
LORD GORING. At half-past ten. And now I propose that we tell Robert the whole thing at once.
LADY CHILTERN. [Looking at him with amazement that is almost terror.] You want me to tell Robert that the woman you expected was not Mrs. Cheveley, but myself? That it was I whom you thought was concealed in a room in your house, at half-past ten o'clock at night? You want me to tell him that?
LORD GORING. I think it is better that he should know the exact truth.
LADY CHILTERN. [Rising.] Oh, I couldn't, I couldn't!
LORD GORING. May I do it?
LADY CHILTERN. No.
LORD GORING. [Gravely.] You are wrong, Lady Chiltern.
LADY CHILTERN. No. The letter must be intercepted. That is all. But how can I do it? Letters arrive for him every moment of the day. His secretaries open them and hand them to him. I dare not ask the servants to bring me his letters. It would be impossible. Oh! why don't you tell me what to do?
LORD GORING. Pray be calm, Lady Chiltern, and answer the questions I am going to put to you. You said his secretaries open his letters.
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
LORD GORING. Who is with him to-day? Mr. Trafford, isn't it?
LADY CHILTERN. No. Mr. Montford, I think.
LORD GORING. You can trust him?
LADY CHILTERN. [With a gesture of despair.] Oh! how do I know?
LORD GORING. He would do what you asked him, wouldn't he?
LADY CHILTERN. I think so.
LORD GORING. Your letter was on pink paper. He could recognise it without reading it, couldn't he? By the colour?
LADY CHILTERN. I suppose so.
LORD GORING. Is he in the house now?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
LORD GORING. Then I will go and see him myself, and tell him that a certain letter, written on pink paper, is to he forwarded to Robert to-day, and that at all costs it must not reach him. [Goes to the door, and opens it.] Oh! Robert is coming upstairs with the letter in his hand. It has reached him already.
LADY CHILTERN. [With a cry of pain.] Oh! you have saved his life; what have you done with mine?
[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. He has the letter in his hand, and is reading it. He comes towards his wife, not noticing LORD GORING'S presence.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you. Gertrude.' Oh, my love! Is this true? Do you indeed trust me, and want me? If so, it was for me to come to you, not for you to write of coming to me. This letter of yours, Gertrude, makes me feel that nothing that the world may do can hurt me now. You want me, Gertrude?
[LORD GORING, unseen by SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, makes an imploring sign to LADY CHILTERN to accept the situation and SIR ROBERT'S error.]
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You trust me, Gertrude?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! why did you not add you loved me?
LADY CHILTERN. [Taking his hand.] Because I loved you.
[LORD GORING passes into the conservatory.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Kisses her.] Gertrude, you don't know what I feel. When Montford passed me your letter across the table - he had opened it by mistake, I suppose, without looking at the handwriting on the envelope - and I read it - oh! I did not care what disgrace or punishment was in store for me, I only thought you loved me still.
LADY CHILTERN. There is no disgrace in store for you, nor any public shame. Mrs. Cheveley has handed over to Lord Goring the document that was in her possession, and he has destroyed it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Are you sure of this, Gertrude?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes; Lord Goring has just told me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Then I am safe! Oh! what a wonderful thing to be safe! For two days I have been in terror. I am safe now. How did Arthur destroy my letter? Tell me.
LADY CHILTERN. He burned it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I wish I had seen that one sin of my youth burning to ashes. How many men there are in modern life who would like to see their past burning to white ashes before them! Is Arthur still here?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes; he is in the conservatory.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am so glad now I made that speech last night in the House, so glad. I made it thinking that public disgrace might be the result. But it has not been so.
LADY CHILTERN. Public honour has been the result.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I think so. I fear so, almost. For although I am safe from detection, although every proof against me is destroyed, I suppose, Gertrude . . . I suppose I should retire from public life?
[He looks anxiously at his wife.]
LADY CHILTERN. [Eagerly.] Oh yes, Robert, you should do that. It is your duty to do that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is much to surrender.
LADY CHILTERN. No; it will be much to gain.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN walks up and down the room with a troubled expression. Then comes over to his wife, and puts his hand on her shoulder.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And you would be happy living somewhere alone with me, abroad perhaps, or in the country away from London, away from public life? You would have no regrets?
LADY CHILTERN. Oh! none, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sadly.] And your ambition for me? You used to be ambitious for me.
LADY CHILTERN. Oh, my ambition! I have none now, but that we two may love each other. It was your ambition that led you astray. Let us not talk about ambition.
[LORD GORING returns from the conservatory, looking very pleased with himself, and with an entirely new buttonhole that some one has made for him.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Going towards him.] Arthur, I have to thank you for what you have done for me. I don't know how I can repay you.
[Shakes hands with him.]
LORD GORING. My dear fellow, I'll tell you at once. At the present moment, under the usual palm tree . . . I mean in the conservatory .
MASON. Lord Caversham.
LORD GORING. That admirable father of mine really makes a habit of turning up at the wrong moment. It is very heartless of him, very heartless indeed.
[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM. MASON goes out.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Good morning, Lady Chiltern! Warmest congratulations to you, Chiltern, on your brilliant speech last night. I have just left the Prime Minister, and you are to have the vacant seat in the Cabinet.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a look of joy and triumph.] A seat in the Cabinet?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Yes; here is the Prime Minister's letter. [Hands letter.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Takes letter and reads it.] A seat in the Cabinet!
LORD CAVERSHAM. Certainly, and you well deserve it too. You have got what we want so much in political life nowadays - high character, high moral tone, high principles. [To LORD GORING.] Everything that you have not got, sir, and never will have.
LORD GORING. I don't like principles, father. I prefer prejudices.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN is on the brink of accepting the Prime Minister's offer, when he sees wife looking at him with her clear, candid eyes. He then realises that it is impossible.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I cannot accept this offer, Lord Caversham. I have made up my mind to decline it.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Decline it, sir!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My intention is to retire at once from public life.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Angrily.] Decline a seat in the Cabinet, and retire from public life? Never heard such damned nonsense in the whole course of my existence. I beg your pardon, Lady Chiltern. Chiltern, I beg your pardon. [To LORD GORING.] Don't grin like that, sir.
LORD GORING. No, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Lady Chiltern, you are a sensible woman, the most sensible woman in London, the most sensible woman I know. Will you kindly prevent your husband from making such a . . . from taking such
. . . Will you kindly do that, Lady Chiltern?
LADY CHILTERN. I think my husband in right in his determination, Lord Caversham. I approve of it.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You approve of it? Good heavens!
LADY CHILTERN. [Taking her husband's hand.] I admire him for it. I admire him immensely for it. I have never admired him so much before. He is finer than even I thought him. [To SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.] You will go and write your letter to the Prime Minister now, won't you? Don't hesitate about it, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a touch of bitterness.] I suppose I had better write it at once. Such offers are not repeated. I will ask you to excuse me for a moment, Lord Caversham.
LADY CHILTERN. I may come with you, Robert, may I not?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes, Gertrude.
[LADY CHILTERN goes out with him.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. What is the matter with this family? Something wrong here, eh? [Tapping his forehead.] Idiocy? Hereditary, I suppose. Both of them, too. Wife as well as husband. Very sad. Very sad indeed! And they are not an old family. Can't understand it.
LORD GORING. It is not idiocy, father, I assure you.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What is it then, sir?
LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Well, it is what is called nowadays a high moral tone, father. That is all.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Hate these new-fangled names. Same thing as we used to call idiocy fifty years ago. Shan't stay in this house any longer.
LORD GORING. [Taking his arm.] Oh! just go in here for a moment, father. Third palm tree to the left, the usual palm tree.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What, sir?
LORD GORING. I beg your pardon, father, I forgot. The conservatory, father, the conservatory - there is some one there I want you to talk to.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What about, sir?
LORD GORING. About me, father,
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Grimly.] Not a subject on which much eloquence is possible.
LORD GORING. No, father; but the lady is like me. She doesn't care much for eloquence in others. She thinks it a little loud.
[LORD CAVERSHAM goes out into the conservatory. LADY CHILTERN enters.]
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, why are you playing Mrs. Cheveley's cards?
LADY CHILTERN. [Startled.] I don't understand you.
LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley made an attempt to ruin your husband. Either to drive him from public life, or to make him adopt a dishonourable position. From the latter tragedy you saved him. The former you are now thrusting on him. Why should you do him the wrong Mrs. Cheveley tried to do and failed?
LADY CHILTERN. Lord Goring?
LORD GORING. [Pulling himself together for a great effort, and showing the philosopher that underlies the dandy.] Lady Chiltern, allow me. You wrote me a letter last night in which you said you trusted me and wanted my help. Now is the moment when you really want my help, now is the time when you have got to trust me, to trust in my counsel and judgment. You love Robert. Do you want to kill his love for you? What sort of existence will he have if you rob him of the fruits of his ambition, if you take him from the splendour of a great political career, if you close the doors of public life against him, if you condemn him to sterile failure, he who was made for triumph and success? Women are not meant to judge us, but to forgive us when we need forgiveness. Pardon, not punishment, is their mission. Why should you scourge him with rods for a sin done in his youth, before he knew you, before he knew himself? A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses. Don't make any terrible mistake, Lady Chiltern. A woman who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them.
LADY CHILTERN. [Troubled and hesitating.] But it is my husband himself who wishes to retire from public life. He feels it is his duty. It was he who first said so.
LORD GORING. Rather than lose your love, Robert would do anything, wreck his whole career, as he is on the brink of doing now. He is making for you a terrible sacrifice. Take my advice, Lady Chiltern, and do not accept a sacrifice so great. If you do, you will live to repent it bitterly. We men and women are not made to accept such sacrifices from each other. We are not worthy of them. Besides, Robert has been punished enough.
LADY CHILTERN. We have both been punished. I set him up too high.
LORD GORING. [With deep feeling in his voice.] Do not for that reason set him down now too low. If he has fallen from his altar, do not thrust him into the mire. Failure to Robert would be the very mire of shame. Power is his passion. He would lose everything, even his power to feel love. Your husband's life is at this moment in your hands, your husband's love is in your hands. Don't mar both for him.
[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, here is the draft of my letter. Shall I read it to you?
LADY CHILTERN. Let me see it.
[SIR ROBERT hands her the letter. She reads it, and then, with a gesture of passion, tears it up.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What are you doing?
LADY CHILTERN. A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. Our lives revolve in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses. I have just learnt this, and much else with it, from Lord Goring. And I will not spoil your life for you, nor see you spoil it as a sacrifice to me, a useless sacrifice!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude! Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. You can forget. Men easily forget. And I forgive. That is how women help the world. I see that now.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Deeply overcome by emotion, embraces her.] My wife! my wife! [To LORD GORING.] Arthur, it seems that I am always to be in your debt.
LORD GORING. Oh dear no, Robert. Your debt is to Lady Chiltern, not to me!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I owe you much. And now tell me what you were going to ask me just now as Lord Caversham came in.
LORD GORING. Robert, you are your sister's guardian, and I want your consent to my marriage with her. That is all.
LADY CHILTERN. Oh, I am so glad! I am so glad! [Shakes hands with LORD GORING.]
LORD GORING. Thank you, Lady Chiltern.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a troubled look.] My sister to be your wife?
LORD GORING. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Speaking with great firmness.] Arthur, I am very sorry, but the thing is quite out of the question. I have to think of Mabel's future happiness. And I don't think her happiness would be safe in your hands. And I cannot have her sacrificed!
LORD GORING. Sacrificed!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes, utterly sacrificed. Loveless marriages are horrible. But there is one thing worse than an absolutely loveless marriage. A marriage in which there is love, but on one side only; faith, but on one side only; devotion, but on one side only, and in which of the two hearts one is sure to be broken.
LORD GORING. But I love Mabel. No other woman has any place in my life.
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, if they love each other, why should they not be married?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur cannot bring Mabel the love that she deserves.
LORD GORING. What reason have you for saying that?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Do you really require me to tell you?
LORD GORING. Certainly I do.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. As you choose. When I called on you yesterday evening I found Mrs. Cheveley concealed in your rooms. It was between ten and eleven o'clock at night. I do not wish to say anything more. Your relations with Mrs. Cheveley have, as I said to you last night, nothing whatsoever to do with me. I know you were engaged to be married to her once. The fascination she exercised over you then seems to have returned. You spoke to me last night of her as of a woman pure and stainless, a woman whom you respected and honoured. That may be so. But I cannot give my sister's life into your hands. It would be wrong of me. It would be unjust, infamously unjust to her.
LORD GORING. I have nothing more to say.
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, it was not Mrs. Cheveley whom Lord Goring expected last night.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Not Mrs. Cheveley! Who was it then?
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern!
LADY CHILTERN. It was your own wife. Robert, yesterday afternoon Lord Goring told me that if ever I was in trouble I could come to him for help, as he was our oldest and best friend. Later on, after that terrible scene in this room, I wrote to him telling him that I trusted him, that I had need of him, that I was coming to him for help and advice. [SIR ROBERT CHILTERN takes the letter out of his pocket.] Yes, that letter. I didn't go to Lord Goring's, after all. I felt that it is from ourselves alone that help can come. Pride made me think that. Mrs. Cheveley went. She stole my letter and sent it anonymously to you this morning, that you should think . . . Oh! Robert, I cannot tell you what she wished you to think. . . .
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What! Had I fallen so low in your eyes that you thought that even for a moment I could have doubted your goodness? Gertrude, Gertrude, you are to me the white image of all good things, and sin can never touch you. Arthur, you can go to Mabel, and you have my best wishes! Oh! stop a moment. There is no name at the beginning of this letter. The brilliant Mrs. Cheveley does not seem to have noticed that. There should be a name.
LADY CHILTERN. Let me write yours. It is you I trust and need. You and none else.
LORD GORING. Well, really, Lady Chiltern, I think I should have back my own letter.
LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] No; you shall have Mabel. [Takes the letter and writes her husband's name on it.]
LORD GORING. Well, I hope she hasn't changed her mind. It's nearly twenty minutes since I saw her last.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN and LORD CAVERSHAM.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, I think your father's conversation much more improving than yours. I am only going to talk to Lord Caversham in the future, and always under the usual palm tree.
LORD GORING. Darling! [Kisses her.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Considerably taken aback.] What does this mean, sir? You don't mean to say that this charming, clever young lady has been so foolish as to accept you?
LORD GORING. Certainly, father! And Chiltern's been wise enough to accept the seat in the Cabinet.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I am very glad to hear that, Chiltern . . . I congratulate you, sir. If the country doesn't go to the dogs or the Radicals, we shall have you Prime Minister, some day.
MASON. Luncheon is on the table, my Lady!
[MASON goes out.]
MABEL CHILTERN. You'll stop to luncheon, Lord Caversham, won't you?
LORD CAVERSHAM. With pleasure, and I'll drive you down to Downing Street afterwards, Chiltern. You have a great future before you, a great future. Wish I could say the same for you, sir. [To LORD GORING.] But your career will have to be entirely domestic.
LORD GORING. Yes, father, I prefer it domestic.
LORD CAVERSHAM. And if you don't make this young lady an ideal husband, I'll cut you off with a shilling.
MABEL CHILTERN. An ideal husband! Oh, I don't think I should like that. It sounds like something in the next world.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What do you want him to be then, dear?
MABEL CHILTERN. He can be what he chooses. All I want is to be . .
. to be . . . oh! a real wife to him.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Upon my word, there is a good deal of common sense in that, Lady Chiltern.
[They all go out except SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. He sinks in a chair, wrapt in thought. After a little time LADY CHILTERN returns to look for him.]
LADY CHILTERN. [Leaning over the back of the chair.] Aren't you coming in, Robert?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Taking her hand.] Gertrude, is it love you feel for me, or is it pity merely?
LADY CHILTERN. [Kisses him.] It is love, Robert. Love, and only love. For both of us a new life is beginning.