Morning-room in Algernon’s flat in
Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically
furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room.
[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on
the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]
Algernon. Did you hear what I
was playing, Lane?
Lane. I didn’t think it
polite to listen, sir.
Algernon. I’m sorry for
that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately—any one can
play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far
as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep
science for Life.
Lane. Yes, sir.
Algernon. And, speaking of the
science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady
Lane. Yes, sir. [Hands
them on a salver.]
Algernon. [Inspects them,
takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh! . . . by the way,
Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord
and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne
entered as having been consumed.
Lane. Yes, sir; eight bottles
and a pint.
Algernon. Why is it that at a
bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the
champagne? I ask merely for information.
Lane. I attribute it to the
superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that
in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate
Algernon. Good heavens!
Is marriage so demoralising as that?
Lane. I believe it is a very
pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it
myself up to the present. I have only been married once.
That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a
Algernon. [Languidly.] I
don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.
Lane. No, sir; it is not a
very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.
Algernon. Very natural, I am
sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.
Lane. Thank you, sir.
[Lane goes out.]
Algernon. Lane’s views on
marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don’t
set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They
seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral
Lane. Mr. Ernest Worthing.
[Lane goes out.]
Algernon. How are you, my dear
Ernest? What brings you up to town?
Jack. Oh, pleasure, pleasure!
What else should bring one anywhere? Eating as usual, I see,
Algernon. [Stiffly.] I
believe it is customary in good society to take some slight
refreshment at five o’clock. Where have you been since last
Jack. [Sitting down on the
sofa.] In the country.
Algernon. What on earth do you
Jack. [Pulling off his
gloves.] When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one
is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively
Algernon. And who are the
people you amuse?
Jack. [Airily.] Oh,
Algernon. Got nice neighbours
in your part of Shropshire?
Jack. Perfectly horrid!
Never speak to one of them.
Algernon. How immensely you
must amuse them! [Goes over and takes sandwich.] By the
way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?
Jack. Eh? Shropshire?
Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why
cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so
young? Who is coming to tea?
Algernon. Oh! merely Aunt
Augusta and Gwendolen.
Jack. How perfectly
Algernon. Yes, that is all
very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won’t quite approve of your
Jack. May I ask why?
Algernon. My dear fellow, the
way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is
almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you.
Jack. I am in love with
Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.
Algernon. I thought you had
come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business.
Jack. How utterly unromantic
Algernon. I really don’t see
anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in
love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal.
Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then
the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is
uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to
forget the fact.
Jack. I have no doubt about
that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for
people whose memories are so curiously constituted.
Algernon. Oh! there is no use
speculating on that subject. Divorces are made in Heaven—[Jack
puts out his hand to take a sandwich. Algernon at once
interferes.] Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches.
They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and
Jack. Well, you have been
eating them all the time.
Algernon. That is quite a
different matter. She is my aunt. [Takes plate from
below.] Have some bread and butter. The bread and butter
is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter.
Jack. [Advancing to table and
helping himself.] And very good bread and butter it is too.
Algernon. Well, my dear
fellow, you need not eat as if you were going to eat it all.
You behave as if you were married to her already. You are not
married to her already, and I don’t think you ever will be.
Jack. Why on earth do you say
Algernon. Well, in the first
place girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don’t
think it right.
Jack. Oh, that is nonsense!
Algernon. It isn’t. It
is a great truth. It accounts for the extraordinary number of
bachelors that one sees all over the place. In the second
place, I don’t give my consent.
Jack. Your consent!
Algernon. My dear fellow,
Gwendolen is my first cousin. And before I allow you to marry
her, you will have to clear up the whole question of Cecily.
Jack. Cecily! What on
earth do you mean? What do you mean, Algy, by Cecily! I
don’t know any one of the name of Cecily.
Algernon. Bring me that
cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in the smoking-room the last time
Lane. Yes, sir. [Lane
Jack. Do you mean to say you
have had my cigarette case all this time? I wish to goodness
you had let me know. I have been writing frantic letters to
Scotland Yard about it. I was very nearly offering a large
Algernon. Well, I wish you
would offer one. I happen to be more than usually hard up.
Jack. There is no good
offering a large reward now that the thing is found.
[Enter Lane with the cigarette case
on a salver. Algernon takes it at once. Lane goes out.]
Algernon. I think that is
rather mean of you, Ernest, I must say. [Opens case and
examines it.] However, it makes no matter, for, now that I look
at the inscription inside, I find that the thing isn’t yours after
Jack. Of course it’s mine.
[Moving to him.] You have seen me with it a hundred times, and
you have no right whatsoever to read what is written inside. It
is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case.
Algernon. Oh! it is absurd to
have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one
shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what
one shouldn’t read.
Jack. I am quite aware of the
fact, and I don’t propose to discuss modern culture. It isn’t
the sort of thing one should talk of in private. I simply want
my cigarette case back.
Algernon. Yes; but this isn’t
your cigarette case. This cigarette case is a present from some
one of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn’t know any one of
Jack. Well, if you want to
know, Cecily happens to be my aunt.
Algernon. Your aunt!
Jack. Yes. Charming old
lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge Wells. Just give it
back to me, Algy.
Algernon. [Retreating to back
of sofa.] But why does she call herself little Cecily if she is
your aunt and lives at Tunbridge Wells? [Reading.] ‘From
little Cecily with her fondest love.’
Jack. [Moving to sofa and
kneeling upon it.] My dear fellow, what on earth is there in
that? Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That
is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for
herself. You seem to think that every aunt should be exactly
like your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven’s sake give
me back my cigarette case. [Follows Algernon round the room.]
Algernon. Yes. But why
does your aunt call you her uncle? ‘From little Cecily, with
her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.’ There is no
objection, I admit, to an aunt being a small aunt, but why an aunt,
no matter what her size may be, should call her own nephew her
I can’t quite make out. Besides, your name isn’t Jack at
all; it is Ernest.
Jack. It isn’t Ernest; it’s
Algernon. You have always told
me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to every one as
Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if
your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I
ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that
your name isn’t Ernest. It’s on your cards. Here is
one of them. [Taking it from case.] ‘Mr. Ernest
Worthing, B. 4, The Albany.’ I’ll keep this as a proof that
your name is Ernest if ever you attempt to deny it to me, or to
Gwendolen, or to any one else. [Puts the card in his pocket.]
Jack. Well, my name is Ernest
in town and Jack in the country, and the cigarette case was given
me in the country.
Algernon. Yes, but that does
not account for the fact that your small Aunt Cecily, who lives at
Tunbridge Wells, calls you her dear uncle. Come, old boy, you
had much better have the thing out at once.
Jack. My dear Algy, you talk
exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk
like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false
Algernon. Well, that is
exactly what dentists always do. Now, go on! Tell me the
whole thing. I may mention that I have always suspected you of
being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it
Jack. Bunburyist? What on
earth do you mean by a Bunburyist?
Algernon. I’ll reveal to you
the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind
enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the
Jack. Well, produce my
cigarette case first.
Algernon. Here it is.
[Hands cigarette case.] Now produce your explanation, and pray
make it improbable. [Sits on sofa.]
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
grand-daughter, 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
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?