mrs. cheveley. [...
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- Oscar Wilde
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Mrs. Cheveley has been concealed in Lord Goring's home and has just made her presence known. She
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mrs. cheveley. [With a mock curtsey] Good evening, Lord Goring!
lord goring. Mrs. Cheveley! Great heavens! . . . May I ask what you were doing in my drawing-room?
mrs. cheveley. Merely listening. I have a perfect passion for listening through keyholes. One always hears such wonderful things through them.
lord goring. Doesn’t that sound rather like tempting Providence?
mrs. cheveley. Oh! surely Providence can resist temptation by this time. [Makes a sign to him to take her cloak off, which he does.]
lord goring. I am glad you have called. I am going to give you some good advice.
mrs. cheveley. Oh! pray don’t. One should never give a woman anything that she can’t wear in the evening.
lord goring. I see you are quite as wilful as you used to be.
mrs. cheveley. Far more! I have greatly improved. I have had more experience.
lord goring. Too much experience is a dangerous thing. Pray have a cigarette. Half the pretty women in London smoke cigarettes. Personally I prefer the other half.
mrs. cheveley. Thanks. I never smoke. My dressmaker wouldn’t like it, and a woman’s first duty in life is to her dressmaker, isn’t it? What the second duty is, no one has as yet discovered.
lord goring. You have come here to sell me Robert Chiltern’s letter, haven’t you?
mrs. cheveley. To offer it to you on conditions. How did you guess that?
lord goring. Because you haven’t mentioned the subject. Have you got it with you?
mrs. cheveley. [Sitting down.] Oh, no! A well-made dress has no pockets.
lord goring. What is your price for it?
mrs. cheveley. How absurdly English you are! The English think that a cheque-book can solve every problem in life. Why, my dear Arthur, I have very much more money than you have, and quite as much as Robert Chiltern has got hold of. Money is not what I want.
lord goring. What do you want then, Mrs. Cheveley?
mrs. cheveley. Why don’t you call me Laura?
lord goring. I don’t like the name.
mrs. cheveley. You used to adore it.
lord goring. Yes: that’s why. [mrs. cheveley motions to him to sit down beside her. He smiles, and does so.]
mrs. cheveley. Arthur, you loved me once.
lord goring. Yes.
mrs. cheveley. And you asked me to be your wife.
lord goring. That was the natural result of my loving you.
mrs. cheveley. And you threw me over because you saw, or said you saw, poor old Lord Mortlake trying to have a violent flirtation with me in the conservatory at Tenby.
lord goring. I am under the impression that my lawyer settled that matter with you on certain terms . . . dictated by yourself.
mrs. cheveley. At that time I was poor; you were rich.
lord goring. Quite so. That is why you pretended to love me.
mrs. cheveley. [Shrugging her shoulders.] Poor old Lord Mortlake, who had only two topics of conversation, his gout and his wife! I never could quite make out which of the two he was talking about. He used the most horrible language about them both. Well, you were silly, Arthur. Why, Lord Mortlake was never anything more to me than an amusement. One of those utterly tedious amusements one only finds at an English country house on an English country Sunday. I don’t think any one at all morally responsible for what he or she does at an English country house.
lord goring. Yes. I know lots of people think that.
mrs. cheveley. I loved you, Arthur.
lord goring. My dear Mrs. Cheveley, you have always been far too clever to know anything about love.
mrs. cheveley. I did love you. And you loved me. You know you loved me; and love is a very wonderful thing. I suppose that when a man has once loved a woman, he will do anything for her, except continue to love her? [Puts her hand on his.]
lord goring. [Taking his hand away quietly.] Yes: except that.
mrs. cheveley. [After a pause.] I am tired of living abroad. I want to come back to London. I want to have a charming house here. I want to have a salon. If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite civilised. Besides, I have arrived at the romantic stage. When I saw you last night at the Chilterns’, I knew you were the only person I had ever cared for, if I ever have cared for anybody, Arthur. And so, on the morning of the day you marry me, I will give you Robert Chiltern’s letter. That is my offer. I will give it to you now, if you promise to marry me.
lord goring. Now?
mrs. cheveley. [Smiling.] To-morrow.
lord goring. Are you really serious?
mrs. cheveley. Yes, quite serious.
lord goring. I should make you a very bad husband.
mrs. cheveley. I don’t mind bad husbands. I have had two. They amused me immensely.
lord goring. You mean that you amused yourself immensely, don’t you?
mrs. cheveley. What do you know about my married life?
lord goring. Nothing: but I can read it like a book.
mrs. cheveley. What book?
lord goring. [Rising.] The Book of Numbers.
mrs. cheveley. Do you think it is quite charming of you to be so rude to a woman in your own house?
lord goring. In the case of very fascinating women, sex is a challenge, not a defence.
mrs. cheveley. I suppose that is meant for a compliment. My dear Arthur, women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are. That is the difference between the two sexes.
lord goring. Women are never disarmed by anything, as far as I know them.
mrs. cheveley. [After a pause.] Then you are going to allow your greatest friend, Robert Chiltern, to be ruined, rather than marry some one who really has considerable attractions left. I thought you would have risen to some great height of self-sacrifice, Arthur. I think you should. And the rest of your life you could spend in contemplating your own perfections.
lord goring. Oh! I do that as it is. And self-sacrifice is a thing that should be put down by law. It is so demoralising to the people for whom one sacrifices oneself. They always go to the bad.
mrs. cheveley. As if anything could demoralise Robert Chiltern! You seem to forget that I know his real character.
lord goring. What you know about him is not his real character. It was an act of folly done in his youth, dishonourable, I admit, shameful, I admit, unworthy of him, I admit, and therefore . . . not his true character.
mrs. cheveley. How you men stand up for each other!
lord goring. How you women war against each other!
mrs. cheveley. [Bitterly.] I only war against one woman, against Gertrude Chiltern. I hate her. I hate her now more than ever.
lord goring. Because you have brought a real tragedy into her life, I suppose.
mrs. cheveley. [With a sneer.] Oh, there is only one real tragedy in a woman’s life. The fact that her past is always her lover, and her future invariably her husband.
lord goring. Lady Chiltern knows nothing of the kind of life to which you are alluding.
mrs. cheveley. A woman whose size in gloves is seven and three-quarters never knows much about anything. You know Gertrude has always worn seven and three-quarters? That is one of the reasons why there was never any moral sympathy between us. . . . Well, Arthur, I suppose this romantic interview may be regarded as at an end. You admit it was romantic, don’t you? For the privilege of being your wife I was ready to surrender a great prize, the climax of my diplomatic career. You decline. Very well. If Sir Robert doesn’t uphold my Argentine scheme, I expose him. Voilà tout.
lord goring. You mustn’t do that. It would be vile, horrible, infamous.
mrs. cheveley. [Shrugging her shoulders.] Oh! don’t use big words. They mean so little. It is a commercial transaction. That is all. There is no good mixing up sentimentality in it. I offered to sell Robert Chiltern a certain thing. If he won’t pay me my price, he will have to pay the world a greater price. There is no more to be said. I must go. Good-bye. Won’t you shake hands?
lord goring. With you? No. Your transaction with Robert Chiltern may pass as a loathsome commercial transaction of a loathsome commercial age; but you seem to have forgotten that you came here to-night to talk of love, you whose lips desecrated the word love, you to whom the thing is a book closely sealed, went this afternoon to the house of one of the most noble and gentle women in the world to degrade her husband in her eyes, to try and kill her love for him, to put poison in her heart, and bitterness in her life, to break her idol, and, it may be, spoil her soul. That I cannot forgive you. That was horrible. For that there can be no forgiveness.
mrs. cheveley. Arthur, you are unjust to me. Believe me, you are quite unjust to me. I didn’t go to taunt Gertrude at all. I had no idea of doing anything of the kind when I entered. I called with Lady Markby simply to ask whether an ornament, a jewel, that I lost somewhere last night, had been found at the Chilterns’. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Lady Markby. She will tell you it is true. The scene that occurred happened after Lady Markby had left, and was really forced on me by Gertrude’s rudeness and sneers. I called, oh!—a little out of malice if you like—but really to ask if a diamond brooch of mine had been found. That was the origin of the whole thing.
lord goring. A diamond snake-brooch with a ruby?
mrs. cheveley. Yes. How do you know?
lord goring. Because it is found. In point of fact, I found it myself, and stupidly forgot to tell the butler anything about it as I was leaving. [Goes over to the writing-table and pulls out the drawers.] It is in this drawer. No, that one. This is the brooch, isn’t it? [Holds up the brooch.]
mrs. cheveley. Yes. I am so glad to get it back. It was . . a present.
lord goring. Won’t you wear it?
mrs. cheveley. Certainly, if you pin it in. [lord goring suddenly clasps it on her arm.] Why do you put it on as a bracelet? I never knew it could he worn as a bracelet.
lord goring. Really?
mrs. cheveley. [Holding out her handsome arm.] No; but it looks very well on me as a bracelet, doesn’t it?
lord goring. Yes; much better than when I saw it last.
mrs. cheveley. When did you see it last?
lord goring. [Calmly.] Oh, ten years ago, on Lady Berkshire, from whom you stole it.
mrs. cheveley. [Starting.] What do you mean?
lord goring. I mean that you stole that ornament from my cousin, Mary Berkshire, to whom I gave it when she was married. Suspicion fell on a wretched servant, who was sent away in disgrace. I recognised it last night. I determined to say nothing about it till I had found the thief. I have found the thief now, and I have heard her own confession.
mrs. cheveley. [Tossing her head.] It is not true.
lord goring. You know it is true. Why, thief is written across your face at this moment.
mrs. cheveley. I will deny the whole affair from beginning to end. I will say that I have never seen this wretched thing, that it was never in my possession.
[mrs. cheveley tries to get the bracelet off her arm, but fails. lord goring looks on amused. Her thin fingers tear at the jewel to no purpose. A curse breaks from her.]
lord goring. The drawback of stealing a thing, Mrs. Cheveley, is that one never knows how wonderful the thing that one steals is. You can’t get that bracelet off, unless you know where the spring is. And I see you don’t know where the spring is. It is rather difficult to find.
mrs. cheveley. You brute! You coward! [She tries again to unclasp the bracelet, but fails.]
lord goring. Oh! don’t use big words. They mean so little.
mrs. cheveley. [Again tears at the bracelet in a paroxysm of rage, with inarticulate sounds. Then stops, and looks at lord goring.] What are you going to do?
lord goring. I am going to ring for my servant. He is an admirable servant. Always comes in the moment one rings for him. When he comes I will tell him to fetch the police.
mrs. cheveley. [Trembling.] The police? What for?
lord goring. To-morrow the Berkshires will prosecute you. That is what the police are for.
mrs. cheveley. [Is now in an agony of physical terror. Her face is distorted. Her mouth awry. A mask has fallen from her. She it, for the moment, dreadful to look at.] Don’t do that. I will do anything you want. Anything in the world you want.
lord goring. Give me Robert Chiltern’s letter.
mrs. cheveley. Stop! Stop! Let me have time to think.
lord goring. Give me Robert Chiltern’s letter.
mrs. cheveley. I have not got it with me. I will give it to you to-morrow.
lord goring. You know you are lying. Give it to me at once. [mrs. cheveley pulls the letter out, and hands it to him. She is horribly pale.] This is it?
mrs. cheveley. [In a hoarse voice.] Yes.
lord goring. [Takes the letter, examines it, sighs, and burns it with the lamp.] For so well-dressed a woman, Mrs. Cheveley, you have moments of admirable common sense. I congratulate you.
mrs. cheveley. [Catches sight of lady chiltern’s letter, the cover of which is just showing from under the blotting-book.] Please get me a glass of water.
lord goring. Certainly. [Goes to the corner of the room and pours out a glass of water. While his back is turned mrs. cheveley steals lady chiltern’s letter. When lord goring returns the glass she refuses it with a gesture.]
mrs. cheveley. Thank you. Will you help me on with my cloak?
lord goring. With pleasure. [Puts her cloak on.]
mrs. cheveley. Thanks. I am never going to try to harm Robert Chiltern again.
lord goring. Fortunately you have not the chance, Mrs. Cheveley.
mrs. cheveley. Well, if even I had the chance, I wouldn’t. On the contrary, I am going to render him a great service.
lord goring. I am charmed to hear it. It is a reformation.
mrs. cheveley. Yes. I can’t bear so upright a gentleman, so honourable an English gentleman, being so shamefully deceived, and so—
lord goring. Well?
mrs. cheveley. I find that somehow Gertrude Chiltern’s dying speech and confession has strayed into my pocket.
lord goring. What do you mean?
mrs. cheveley. [With a bitter note of triumph in her voice.] I mean that I am going to send Robert Chiltern the love-letter his wife wrote to you to-night.
lord goring. Love-letter?
mrs. cheveley. [Laughing.] ‘I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you. Gertrude.’
[lord goring rushes to the bureau and takes up the envelope, finds is empty, and turns round.]
lord goring. You wretched woman, must you always be thieving? Give me back that letter. I’ll take it from you by force. You shall not leave my room till I have got it.
[He rushes towards her, but mrs. cheveley at once puts her hand on the electric bell that is on the table. The bell sounds with shrill reverberations, and phipps enters.]
mrs. cheveley. [After a pause.] Lord Goring merely rang that you should show me out. Good-night, Lord Goring!
[Goes out followed by phipps. Her face is illumined with evil triumph. There is joy in her eyes. Youth seems to have come back to her. Her last glance is like a swift arrow. lord goring bites his lip, and lights his a cigarette.]
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