SECOND ACT (cont)
Jack. Oh! I don’t see much fun in being christened along with other babies. It would be childish. Would half-past five do?
Chasuble. Admirably! Admirably! [Takes out watch.] And now, dear Mr. Worthing, I will not intrude any longer into a house of sorrow. I would merely beg you not to be too much bowed down by grief. What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.
Miss Prism. This seems to me a blessing of an extremely obvious kind.
[Enter Cecily from the house.]
Cecily. Uncle Jack! Oh, I am pleased to see you back. But what horrid clothes you have got on! Do go and change them.
Miss Prism. Cecily!
Chasuble. My child! my child! [Cecily goes towards Jack; he kisses her brow in a melancholy manner.]
Cecily. What is the matter, Uncle Jack? Do look happy! You look as if you had toothache, and I have got such a surprise for you. Who do you think is in the dining-room? Your brother!
Cecily. Your brother Ernest. He arrived about half an hour ago.
Jack. What nonsense! I haven’t got a brother.
Cecily. Oh, don’t say that. However badly he may have behaved to you in the past he is still your brother. You couldn’t be so heartless as to disown him. I’ll tell him to come out. And you will shake hands with him, won’t you, Uncle Jack? [Runs back into the house.]
Chasuble. These are very joyful tidings.
Miss Prism. After we had all been resigned to his loss, his sudden return seems to me peculiarly distressing.
Jack. My brother is in the dining-room? I don’t know what it all means. I think it is perfectly absurd.
[Enter Algernon and Cecily hand in hand. They come slowly up to Jack.]
Jack. Good heavens! [Motions Algernon away.]
Algernon. Brother John, I have come down from town to tell you that I am very sorry for all the trouble I have given you, and that I intend to lead a better life in the future. [Jack glares at him and does not take his hand.]
Cecily. Uncle Jack, you are not going to refuse your own brother’s hand?
Jack. Nothing will induce me to take his hand. I think his coming down here disgraceful. He knows perfectly well why.
Cecily. Uncle Jack, do be nice. There is some good in every one. Ernest has just been telling me about his poor invalid friend Mr. Bunbury whom he goes to visit so often. And surely there must be much good in one who is kind to an invalid, and leaves the pleasures of London to sit by a bed of pain.
Jack. Oh! he has been talking about Bunbury, has he?
Cecily. Yes, he has told me all about poor Mr. Bunbury, and his terrible state of health.
Jack. Bunbury! Well, I won’t have him talk to you about Bunbury or about anything else. It is enough to drive one perfectly frantic.
Algernon. Of course I admit that the faults were all on my side. But I must say that I think that Brother John’s coldness to me is peculiarly painful. I expected a more enthusiastic welcome, especially considering it is the first time I have come here.
Cecily. Uncle Jack, if you don’t shake hands with Ernest I will never forgive you.
Jack. Never forgive me?
Cecily. Never, never, never!
Jack. Well, this is the last time I shall ever do it. [Shakes with Algernon and glares.]
Chasuble. It’s pleasant, is it not, to see so perfect a reconciliation? I think we might leave the two brothers together.
Miss Prism. Cecily, you will come with us.
Cecily. Certainly, Miss Prism. My little task of reconciliation is over.
Chasuble. You have done a beautiful action to-day, dear child.
Miss Prism. We must not be premature in our judgments.
Cecily. I feel very happy. [They all go off except Jack and Algernon.]
Jack. You young scoundrel, Algy, you must get out of this place as soon as possible. I don’t allow any Bunburying here.
Merriman. I have put Mr. Ernest’s things in the room next to yours, sir. I suppose that is all right?
Merriman. Mr. Ernest’s luggage, sir. I have unpacked it and put it in the room next to your own.
Jack. His luggage?
Merriman. Yes, sir. Three portmanteaus, a dressing-case, two hat-boxes, and a large luncheon-basket.
Algernon. I am afraid I can’t stay more than a week this time.
Jack. Merriman, order the dog-cart at once. Mr. Ernest has been suddenly called back to town.
Merriman. Yes, sir. [Goes back into the house.]
Algernon. What a fearful liar you are, Jack. I have not been called back to town at all.
Jack. Yes, you have.
Algernon. I haven’t heard any one call me.
Jack. Your duty as a gentleman calls you back.
Algernon. My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree.
Jack. I can quite understand that.
Algernon. Well, Cecily is a darling.
Jack. You are not to talk of Miss Cardew like that. I don’t like it.
Algernon. Well, I don’t like your clothes. You look perfectly ridiculous in them. Why on earth don’t you go up and change? It is perfectly childish to be in deep mourning for a man who is actually staying for a whole week with you in your house as a guest. I call it grotesque.
Jack. You are certainly not staying with me for a whole week as a guest or anything else. You have got to leave . . . by the four-five train.
Algernon. I certainly won’t leave you so long as you are in mourning. It would be most unfriendly. If I were in mourning you would stay with me, I suppose. I should think it very unkind if you didn’t.
Jack. Well, will you go if I change my clothes?
Algernon. Yes, if you are not too long. I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.
Jack. Well, at any rate, that is better than being always over-dressed as you are.
Algernon. If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.
Jack. Your vanity is ridiculous, your conduct an outrage, and your presence in my garden utterly absurd. However, you have got to catch the four-five, and I hope you will have a pleasant journey back to town. This Bunburying, as you call it, has not been a great success for you.
[Goes into the house.]
Algernon. I think it has been a great success. I’m in love with Cecily, and that is everything.
[Enter Cecily at the back of the garden. She picks up the can and begins to water the flowers.] But I must see her before I go, and make arrangements for another Bunbury. Ah, there she is.
Cecily. Oh, I merely came back to water the roses. I thought you were with Uncle Jack.
Algernon. He’s gone to order the dog-cart for me.
Cecily. Oh, is he going to take you for a nice drive?
Algernon. He’s going to send me away.
Cecily. Then have we got to part?
Algernon. I am afraid so. It’s a very painful parting.
Cecily. It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.
Algernon. Thank you.
Merriman. The dog-cart is at the door, sir. [Algernon looks appealingly at Cecily.]
Cecily. It can wait, Merriman for . . . five minutes.
Merriman. Yes, Miss. [Exit Merriman.]
Algernon. I hope, Cecily, I shall not offend you if I state quite frankly and openly that you seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection.
Cecily. I think your frankness does you great credit, Ernest. If you will allow me, I will copy your remarks into my diary. [Goes over to table and begins writing in diary.]
Algernon. Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I?
Cecily. Oh no. [Puts her hand over it.] You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy. But pray, Ernest, don’t stop. I delight in taking down from dictation. I have reached ‘absolute perfection’. You can go on. I am quite ready for more.
Algernon. [Somewhat taken aback.] Ahem! Ahem!
Cecily. Oh, don’t cough, Ernest. When one is dictating one should speak fluently and not cough. Besides, I don’t know how to spell a cough. [Writes as Algernonspeaks.]
Algernon. [Speaking very rapidly.] Cecily, ever since I first looked upon your wonderful and incomparable beauty, I have dared to love you wildly, passionately, devotedly, hopelessly.
Cecily. I don’t think that you should tell me that you love me wildly, passionately, devotedly, hopelessly. Hopelessly doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?
Merriman. The dog-cart is waiting, sir.
Algernon. Tell it to come round next week, at the same hour.
Merriman. [Looks at Cecily, who makes no sign.] Yes, sir.
Cecily. Uncle Jack would be very much annoyed if he knew you were staying on till next week, at the same hour.
Algernon. Oh, I don’t care about Jack. I don’t care for anybody in the whole world but you. I love you, Cecily. You will marry me, won’t you?
Cecily. You silly boy! Of course. Why, we have been engaged for the last three months.
Algernon. For the last three months?
Cecily. Yes, it will be exactly three months on Thursday.
Algernon. But how did we become engaged?
Cecily. Well, ever since dear Uncle Jack first confessed to us that he had a younger brother who was very wicked and bad, you of course have formed the chief topic of conversation between myself and Miss Prism. And of course a man who is much talked about is always very attractive. One feels there must be something in him, after all. I daresay it was foolish of me, but I fell in love with you, Ernest.
Algernon. Darling! And when was the engagement actually settled?
Cecily. On the 14th of February last. Worn out by your entire ignorance of my existence, I determined to end the matter one way or the other, and after a long struggle with myself I accepted you under this dear old tree here. The next day I bought this little ring in your name, and this is the little bangle with the true lover’s knot I promised you always to wear.
Algernon. Did I give you this? It’s very pretty, isn’t it?
Cecily. Yes, you’ve wonderfully good taste, Ernest. It’s the excuse I’ve always given for your leading such a bad life. And this is the box in which I keep all your dear letters. [Kneels at table, opens box, and produces letters tied up with blue ribbon.]
Algernon. My letters! But, my own sweet Cecily, I have never written you any letters.
Cecily. You need hardly remind me of that, Ernest. I remember only too well that I was forced to write your letters for you. I wrote always three times a week, and sometimes oftener.
Algernon. Oh, do let me read them, Cecily?
Cecily. Oh, I couldn’t possibly. They would make you far too conceited. [Replaces box.] The three you wrote me after I had broken off the engagement are so beautiful, and so badly spelled, that even now I can hardly read them without crying a little.
Algernon. But was our engagement ever broken off?
Cecily. Of course it was. On the 22nd of last March. You can see the entry if you like. [Shows diary.] ‘To-day I broke off my engagement with Ernest. I feel it is better to do so. The weather still continues charming.’
Algernon. But why on earth did you break it off? What had I done? I had done nothing at all. Cecily, I am very much hurt indeed to hear you broke it off. Particularly when the weather was so charming.
Cecily. It would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn’t been broken off at least once. But I forgave you before the week was out.
Algernon. [Crossing to her, and kneeling.] What a perfect angel you are, Cecily.
Cecily. You dear romantic boy. [He kisses her, she puts her fingers through his hair.] I hope your hair curls naturally, does it?
Algernon. Yes, darling, with a little help from others.
Cecily. I am so glad.
Algernon. You’ll never break off our engagement again, Cecily?
Cecily. I don’t think I could break it off now that I have actually met you. Besides, of course, there is the question of your name.
Algernon. Yes, of course. [Nervously.]
Cecily. You must not laugh at me, darling, but it had always been a girlish dream of mine to love some one whose name was Ernest. [Algernon rises, Cecily also.] There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest.
Algernon. But, my dear child, do you mean to say you could not love me if I had some other name?
Cecily. But what name?
Algernon. Oh, any name you like—Algernon—for instance . . .
Cecily. But I don’t like the name of Algernon.
Algernon. Well, my own dear, sweet, loving little darling, I really can’t see why you should object to the name of Algernon. It is not at all a bad name. In fact, it is rather an aristocratic name. Half of the chaps who get into the Bankruptcy Court are called Algernon. But seriously, Cecily . . . [Moving to her] . . . if my name was Algy, couldn’t you love me?
Cecily. [Rising.] I might respect you, Ernest, I might admire your character, but I fear that I should not be able to give you my undivided attention.
Algernon. Ahem! Cecily! [Picking up hat.] Your Rector here is, I suppose, thoroughly experienced in the practice of all the rites and ceremonials of the Church?
Cecily. Oh, yes. Dr. Chasuble is a most learned man. He has never written a single book, so you can imagine how much he knows.
Algernon. I must see him at once on a most important christening—I mean on most important business.
Algernon. I shan’t be away more than half an hour.
Cecily. Considering that we have been engaged since February the 14th, and that I only met you to-day for the first time, I think it is rather hard that you should leave me for so long a period as half an hour. Couldn’t you make it twenty minutes?
Algernon. I’ll be back in no time.
[Kisses her and rushes down the garden.]
Cecily. What an impetuous boy he is! I like his hair so much. I must enter his proposal in my diary.
Merriman. A Miss Fairfax has just called to see Mr. Worthing. On very important business, Miss Fairfax states.
Cecily. Isn’t Mr. Worthing in his library?
Merriman. Mr. Worthing went over in the direction of the Rectory some time ago.
Cecily. Pray ask the lady to come out here; Mr. Worthing is sure to be back soon. And you can bring tea.
Merriman. Yes, Miss. [Goes out.]
Cecily. Miss Fairfax! I suppose one of the many good elderly women who are associated with Uncle Jack in some of his philanthropic work in London. I don’t quite like women who are interested in philanthropic work. I think it is so forward of them.
Merriman. Miss Fairfax.