The Importance Of Being Earnest Lesson 153

Jack.
My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my explanation at all. In fact it’s perfectly ordinary. Old Mr. Thomas Cardew, who adopted me when I was a little boy, made me in his will guardian to his granddaughter, Miss Cecily Cardew. Cecily, who addresses me as her uncle from motives of respect that you could not possibly appreciate, lives at my place in the country under the charge of her admirable governess, Miss Prism.

Algernon.
Where is that place in the country, by the way?

Jack.
That is nothing to you, dear boy. You are not going to be invited. … I may tell you candidly that the place is not in Shropshire.

Algernon.
I suspected that, my dear fellow! I have Bunburyed all over Shropshire on two separate occasions. Now, go on. Why are you Ernest in town and Jack in the country?

Jack.
My dear Algy, I don’t know whether you will be able to understand my real motives. You are hardly serious enough. When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It’s one’s duty to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one’s health or one’s happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes. That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.

Algernon.
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

Jack.
That wouldn’t be at all a bad thing.

Algernon.
Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don’t try it. You should leave that to people who haven’t been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers. What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know.

Jack.
What on earth do you mean?

Algernon.
You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn’t be able to dine with you at Willis’s to-night, for I have been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.

Jack.
I haven’t asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night.

Algernon.
I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out invitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations.

Jack.
You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.

Algernon.
I haven’t the smallest intention of doing anything of the kind. To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine with one’s own relations. In the second place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next to, to-night. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That is not very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent . . . and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public. Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you the rules.

Jack.
I’m not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother, indeed I think I’ll kill him in any case. Cecily is a little too much interested in him. It is rather a bore. So I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly advise you to do the same with Mr. . . . with your invalid friend who has the absurd name.

Algernon.
Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.

Jack.
That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’t want to know Bunbury.

Algernon.
Then your wife will. You don’t seem to realize that in married life three is company and two is none.

Jack.
[Sententiously.] That, my dear young friend, is the theory that the corrupt French Drama has been propounding for the last fifty years.

Algernon.
Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half the time.

Jack.
For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical, It’s perfectly easy to be cynical.

Algernon.
My dear fellow, it isn’t easy to be anything nowadays. There’s such a lot of beastly competition about. [The sound of an electric bell is heard.] Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner. Now, if I get her out of the way for ten minutes, so that you can have an opportunity for proposing to Gwendolen, may I dine with you to-night at Willis’s?

Jack.
I suppose so, if you want to.

Algernon.
Yes, but you must be serious about it. I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.

[Enter Lane.]

Lane.
Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.

[Algernon goes forward to meet them. Enter Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen.]

Lady Bracknell.
Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope you are behaving very well.

Algernon.
I’m feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.

Lady Bracknell.
That’s not quite the same thing. In fact the two things rarely go together.

[Sees Jack and bows to him with icy coldness.]

Algernon.
[To Gwendolen.] Dear me, you are smart!

Gwendolen.
I am always smart! Aren’t I, Mr. Worthing?

Jack.
You’re quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.

Gwendolen.
Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions.

[Gwendolen and Jack sit down together in the corner.]

Lady Bracknell.
I’m sorry if we are a little late, Algernon, but I was obliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger. And now I’ll have a cup of tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me.

Algernon.
Certainly, Aunt Augusta. [Goes over to tea-table.]

Lady Bracknell.
Won’t you come and sit here, Gwendolen?

Gwendolen.
Thanks, mamma, I’m quite comfortable where I am.

Algernon.
[Picking up empty plate in horror.] Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them specially.

Lane.
[Gravely.] There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir. I went down twice.

Algernon.
No cucumbers!

Lane.
No, sir. Not even for ready money.

Algernon.
That will do. Lane, thank you.

Lane.
Thank you, sir. [Goes out.]

Algernon.
I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money.

Lady Bracknell.
It really makes no matter, Algernon. I had some crumpets with Lady Harbury, who seems to me to be living entirely for pleasure now.

Algernon.
I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.

Lady Bracknell.
It certainly has changed its color. From what cause I, of course, cannot say. [Algernon crosses and hands tea.] Thank you. I’ve quite a treat for you to-night, Algernon. I am going to send you down with Mary Farquhar. She is such a nice woman, and so attentive to her husband. It’s delightful to watch them.

Algernon.
I am afraid, Aunt Augusta, I shall have to give up the pleasure of dining with you to-night after all.

Lady Bracknell.
[Frowning.] I hope not, Algernon. It would put my table completely out. Your uncle would have to dine up-stairs. Fortunately he is accustomed to that.

Algernon.
It is a great bore, and, I need hardly say, a terrible disappointment to me, but the fact is I have just had a telegram to say that my poor friend Bunbury is very ill again. [Exchanges glances with Jack.] They seem to think I should be with him.

Lady Bracknell.
It is very strange. This Mr. Bunbury seems to suffer from curiously bad health.

Algernon.
Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid.

Lady Bracknell.
Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids. I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. I am always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to take much notice … as far as any improvement in his ailments goes. I should be much obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, for I rely on you to arrange my music for me. It is my last reception and one wants something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end of the season when every one has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably not much.

Algernon.
I’ll speak to Bunbury, Aunt Augusta, if he is still conscious, and I think I can promise you he’ll be all right by Saturday. Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don’t listen, and if one plays bad music people don’t talk. But I’ll run over the program I’ve drawn out, if you will kindly come into the next room for a moment.

Lady Bracknell.
Thank you, Algernon. It is very thoughtful of you. [Rising, and following Algernon.] I’m sure the program will be delightful, after a few expurgations. French songs I cannot possibly allow. People always seem to think that they are improper, and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh, which is worse. But German sounds a thoroughly respectable language, and indeed, I believe is so. Gwendolen, you will accompany me.

Gwendolen.
Certainly, mamma. [Lady Bracknell and Algernon go into the music-room, Gwendolen remains behind.]

Jack.
Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.

Gwendolen.
Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me so nervous.

Jack.
I do mean something else,

Gwendolen.
I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.

Jack.
And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of Lady Bracknell’s temporary absence , . .

Gwendolen.
I would certainly advise you to do so. Mamma has a way of coming back suddenly into a room that I have often had to speak to her about.

Jack.
[Nervously.] Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired you more than any girl . . . I have ever met since . . . I met you.

Gwendolen.
Yes, I am quite aware of the fact. And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you. [Jack looks at her in amazement.] We live, as I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.

Jack.
You really love me, Gwendolen?

Gwendolen.
Passionately!

Jack.
Darling! You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.

Gwendolen.
My own Ernest!

Jack.
But you don’t really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest?

Gwendolen.
But your name is Ernest.

Jack.
Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do you mean to say you couldn’t love me then?

Gwendolen.
[Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.

Jack.
Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don’t much care about the name of Ernest . . . I don’t think the name suits me at all.

Gwendolen.
It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a music of its own. It produces vibrations.

Jack.
Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I think there are lots of other much nicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a charming name.

Gwendolen.
Jack? . . . No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations. . . I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest.

Jack.
Gwendolen, I must get christened at once — I mean we must get married at once. There is no time to be lost.

Gwendolen.
Married, Mr. Worthing?

Jack.
[Astounded.] Well , . . surely. You know that I love you, and you led me to believe, Miss Fairfax, that you were not absolutely indifferent to me.

Gwendolen.
I adore you. But you haven’t proposed to me yet. Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not even been touched on.

Jack.
Well . . . may I propose to you now?

Gwendolen.
I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to spare you any possible disappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly beforehand that I am fully determined to accept you.

Jack.
Gwendolen!

Gwendolen.
Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got to say to me?