Garden at the Manor House. A flight of grey stone steps leads up to the house. The garden, an old-fashioned one, full of roses. Time of year, July. Basket chairs, and a table covered with books, are set under a large yew-tree.
[Miss Prism discovered seated at the table. Cecily is at the back watering flowers.]
Miss Prism. [Calling.] Cecily, Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton’s duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table. Pray open it at page fifteen. We will repeat yesterday’s lesson.
Cecily. [Coming over very slowly.] But I don’t like German. It isn’t at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.
Miss Prism. Child, you know how anxious your guardian is that you should improve yourself in every way. He laid particular stress on your German, as he was leaving for town yesterday. Indeed, he always lays stress on your German when he is leaving for town.
Cecily. Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! Sometimes he is so serious that I think he cannot be quite well.
Miss Prism. [Drawing herself up.] Your guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravity of demeanour is especially to be commended in one so comparatively young as he is. I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and responsibility.
Cecily. I suppose that is why he often looks a little bored when we three are together.
Miss Prism. Cecily! I am surprised at you. Mr. Worthing has many troubles in his life. Idle merriment and triviality would be out of place in his conversation. You must remember his constant anxiety about that unfortunate young man his brother.
Cecily. I wish Uncle Jack would allow that unfortunate young man, his brother, to come down here sometimes. We might have a good influence over him, Miss Prism. I am sure you certainly would. You know German, and geology, and things of that kind influence a man very much. [Cecily begins to write in her diary.]
Miss Prism. [Shaking her head.] I do not think that even I could produce any effect on a character that according to his own brother’s admission is irretrievably weak and vacillating. Indeed I am not sure that I would desire to reclaim him. I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment’s notice. As a man sows so let him reap. You must put away your diary, Cecily. I really don’t see why you should keep a diary at all.
Cecily. I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn’t write them down, I should probably forget all about them.
Miss Prism. Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.
Cecily. Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn’t possibly have happened. I believe that Memory is responsible for nearly all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.
Miss Prism. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.
Cecily. Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.
Miss Prism. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
Cecily. I suppose so. But it seems very unfair. And was your novel ever published?
Miss Prism. Alas! no. The manuscript unfortunately was abandoned. [Cecily starts.] I use the word in the sense of lost or mislaid. To your work, child, these speculations are profitless.
Cecily. [Smiling.] But I see dear Dr. Chasuble coming up through the garden.
Miss Prism. [Rising and advancing.] Dr. Chasuble! This is indeed a pleasure.
[Enter Canon Chasuble.]
Chasuble. And how are we this morning? Miss Prism, you are, I trust, well?
Cecily. Miss Prism has just been complaining of a slight headache. I think it would do her so much good to have a short stroll with you in the Park, Dr. Chasuble.
Miss Prism. Cecily, I have not mentioned anything about a headache.
Cecily. No, dear Miss Prism, I know that, but I felt instinctively that you had a headache. Indeed I was thinking about that, and not about my German lesson, when the Rector came in.
Chasuble. I hope, Cecily, you are not inattentive.
Cecily. Oh, I am afraid I am.
Chasuble. That is strange. Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her lips. [Miss Prism glares.] I spoke metaphorically.—My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem! Mr. Worthing, I suppose, has not returned from town yet?
Miss Prism. We do not expect him till Monday afternoon.
Chasuble. Ah yes, he usually likes to spend his Sunday in London. He is not one of those whose sole aim is enjoyment, as, by all accounts, that unfortunate young man his brother seems to be. But I must not disturb Egeria and her pupil any longer.
Miss Prism. Egeria? My name is Laetitia, Doctor.
Chasuble. [Bowing.] A classical allusion merely, drawn from the Pagan authors. I shall see you both no doubt at Evensong?
Miss Prism. I think, dear Doctor, I will have a stroll with you. I find I have a headache after all, and a walk might do it good.
Chasuble. With pleasure, Miss Prism, with pleasure. We might go as far as the schools and back.
Miss Prism. That would be delightful. Cecily, you will read your Political Economy in my absence. The chapter on the Fall of the Rupee you may omit. It is somewhat too sensational. Even these metallic problems have their melodramatic side.
[Goes down the garden with Dr. Chasuble.]
Cecily. [Picks up books and throws them back on table.] Horrid Political Economy! Horrid Geography! Horrid, horrid German!
[Enter Merriman with a card on a salver.]
Merriman. Mr. Ernest Worthing has just driven over from the station. He has brought his luggage with him.
Cecily. [Takes the card and reads it.] ‘Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The Albany, W.’ Uncle Jack’s brother! Did you tell him Mr. Worthing was in town?
Merriman. Yes, Miss. He seemed very much disappointed. I mentioned that you and Miss Prism were in the garden. He said he was anxious to speak to you privately for a moment.
Cecily. Ask Mr. Ernest Worthing to come here. I suppose you had better talk to the housekeeper about a room for him.
Merriman. Yes, Miss.
[Merriman goes off.]
Cecily. I have never met any really wicked person before. I feel rather frightened. I am so afraid he will look just like every one else.
[Enter Algernon, very gay and debonnair.] He does!
Algernon. [Raising his hat.] You are my little cousin Cecily, I’m sure.
Cecily. You are under some strange mistake. I am not little. In fact, I believe I am more than usually tall for my age. [Algernon is rather taken aback.] But I am your cousin Cecily. You, I see from your card, are Uncle Jack’s brother, my cousin Ernest, my wicked cousin Ernest.
Algernon. Oh! I am not really wicked at all, cousin Cecily. You mustn’t think that I am wicked.
Cecily. If you are not, then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
Algernon. [Looks at her in amazement.] Oh! Of course I have been rather reckless.
Cecily. I am glad to hear it.
Algernon. In fact, now you mention the subject, I have been very bad in my own small way.
Cecily. I don’t think you should be so proud of that, though I am sure it must have been very pleasant.
Algernon. It is much pleasanter being here with you.
Cecily. I can’t understand how you are here at all. Uncle Jack won’t be back till Monday afternoon.
Algernon. That is a great disappointment. I am obliged to go up by the first train on Monday morning. I have a business appointment that I am anxious… to miss?
Cecily. Couldn’t you miss it anywhere but in London?
Algernon. No: the appointment is in London.
Cecily. Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you about your emigrating.
Algernon. About my what?
Cecily. Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.
Algernon. I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all.
Cecily. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.
Algernon. Australia! I’d sooner die.
Cecily. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Algernon. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.
Cecily. Yes, but are you good enough for it?
Algernon. I’m afraid I’m not that. That is why I want you to reform me. You might make that your mission, if you don’t mind, cousin Cecily.
Cecily. I’m afraid I’ve no time, this afternoon.
Algernon. Well, would you mind my reforming myself this afternoon?
Cecily. It is rather Quixotic of you. But I think you should try.
Algernon. I will. I feel better already.
Cecily. You are looking a little worse.
Algernon. That is because I am hungry.
Cecily. How thoughtless of me. I should have remembered that when one is going to lead an entirely new life, one requires regular and wholesome meals. Won’t you come in?
Algernon. Thank you. Might I have a buttonhole first? I never have any appetite unless I have a buttonhole first.
Cecily. A Marechal Niel? [Picks up scissors.]
Algernon. No, I’d sooner have a pink rose.
Cecily. Why? [Cuts a flower.]
Algernon. Because you are like a pink rose, Cousin Cecily.
Cecily. I don’t think it can be right for you to talk to me like that. Miss Prism never says such things to me.
Algernon. Then Miss Prism is a short-sighted old lady. [Cecily puts the rose in his buttonhole.] You are the prettiest girl I ever saw.
Cecily. Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.
Algernon. They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in.
Cecily. Oh, I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.
[They pass into the house. Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble return.]
Miss Prism. You are too much alone, dear Dr. Chasuble. You should get married. A misanthrope I can understand—a womanthrope, never!
Chasuble. [With a scholar’s shudder.] Believe me, I do not deserve so neologistic a phrase. The precept as well as the practice of the Primitive Church was distinctly against matrimony.
Miss Prism. [Sententiously.] That is obviously the reason why the Primitive Church has not lasted up to the present day. And you do not seem to realise, dear Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads weaker vessels astray.
Chasuble. But is a man not equally attractive when married?
Miss Prism. No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.
Chasuble. And often, I’ve been told, not even to her.
Miss Prism. That depends on the intellectual sympathies of the woman. Maturity can always be depended on. Ripeness can be trusted. Young women are green. [Dr. Chasuble starts.] I spoke horticulturally. My metaphor was drawn from fruits. But where is Cecily?
Chasuble. Perhaps she followed us to the schools.
[Enter Jack slowly from the back of the garden. He is dressed in the deepest mourning, with crape hatband and black gloves.]
Miss Prism. Mr. Worthing!
Chasuble. Mr. Worthing?
Miss Prism. This is indeed a surprise. We did not look for you till Monday afternoon.
Jack. [Shakes Miss Prism’s hand in a tragic manner.] I have returned sooner than I expected. Dr. Chasuble, I hope you are well?
Chasuble. Dear Mr. Worthing, I trust this garb of woe does not betoken some terrible calamity?
Jack. My brother.
Miss Prism. More shameful debts and extravagance?
Chasuble. Still leading his life of pleasure?
Jack. [Shaking his head.] Dead!
Chasuble. Your brother Ernest dead?
Jack. Quite dead.
Miss Prism. What a lesson for him! I trust he will profit by it.
Chasuble. Mr. Worthing, I offer you my sincere condolence. You have at least the consolation of knowing that you were always the most generous and forgiving of brothers.
Jack. Poor Ernest! He had many faults, but it is a sad, sad blow.
Chasuble. Very sad indeed. Were you with him at the end?
Jack. No. He died abroad; in Paris, in fact. I had a telegram last night from the manager of the Grand Hotel.
Chasuble. Was the cause of death mentioned?
Jack. A severe chill, it seems.
Miss Prism. As a man sows, so shall he reap.
Chasuble. [Raising his hand.] Charity, dear Miss Prism, charity! None of us are perfect. I myself am peculiarly susceptible to draughts. Will the interment take place here?
Jack. No. He seems to have expressed a desire to be buried in Paris.
Chasuble. In Paris! [Shakes his head.] I fear that hardly points to any very serious state of mind at the last. You would no doubt wish me to make some slight allusion to this tragic domestic affliction next Sunday. [Jack presses his hand convulsively.] My sermon on the meaning of the manna in the wilderness can be adapted to almost any occasion, joyful, or, as in the present case, distressing. [All sigh.] I have preached it at harvest celebrations, christenings, confirmations, on days of humiliation and festal days. The last time I delivered it was in the Cathedral, as a charity sermon on behalf of the Society for the Prevention of Discontent among the Upper Orders. The Bishop, who was present, was much struck by some of the analogies I drew.
Jack. Ah! that reminds me, you mentioned christenings I think, Dr. Chasuble? I suppose you know how to christen all right? [Dr. Chasuble looks astounded.] I mean, of course, you are continually christening, aren’t you?
Miss Prism. It is, I regret to say, one of the Rector’s most constant duties in this parish. I have often spoken to the poorer classes on the subject. But they don’t seem to know what thrift is.
Chasuble. But is there any particular infant in whom you are interested, Mr. Worthing? Your brother was, I believe, unmarried, was he not?
Jack. Oh yes.
Miss Prism. [Bitterly.] People who live entirely for pleasure usually are.
Jack. But it is not for any child, dear Doctor. I am very fond of children. No! the fact is, I would like to be christened myself, this afternoon, if you have nothing better to do.
Chasuble. But surely, Mr. Worthing, you have been christened already?
Jack. I don’t remember anything about it.
Chasuble. But have you any grave doubts on the subject?
Jack. I certainly intend to have. Of course I don’t know if the thing would bother you in any way, or if you think I am a little too old now.
Chasuble. Not at all. The sprinkling, and, indeed, the immersion of adults is a perfectly canonical practice.
Chasuble. You need have no apprehensions. Sprinkling is all that is necessary, or indeed I think advisable. Our weather is so changeable. At what hour would you wish the ceremony performed?
Jack. Oh, I might trot round about five if that would suit you.
Chasuble. Perfectly, perfectly! In fact I have two similar ceremonies to perform at that time. A case of twins that occurred recently in one of the outlying cottages on your own estate. Poor Jenkins the carter, a most hard-working man.
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.