First Act

Scene: Lawn in front of the terrace at Hunstanton. Sir John and Lady Caroline Pontefract, Miss Worsley, on chairs under large yew tree

Lady Caroline I believe this is the first English country house you have stayed at, Miss Worsley?

Hester Yes, Lady Caroline.

Lady Caroline You have no country houses, I am told, in America?

Hester We have not many.

Lady Caroline Have you any country? What we should call country?

Hester (smiling) We have the largest country in the world, Lady Caroline. They used to tell us at school that some of our states are as big as France and England put together.

Lady Caroline Ah! you must find it very draughty, I should fancy. (To Sir John) John, you should have your muffler. What is the use of my always knitting mufflers for you if you won’t wear them?

Sir John I am quite warm, Caroline, I assure you.

Lady Caroline I think not, John. Well, you couldn’t come to a more charming place than this, Miss Worsley, though the house is excessively damp, quite unpardonably damp, and dear Lady Hunstanton is sometimes a little lax° about the people she asks down here. (To Sir John) Jane mixes too much. Lord Illingworth, of course, is a man of high distinction. It is a privilege to meet him. And that member of Parliament, Mr Kettle—

Sir John Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.

Lady Caroline He must be quite respectable. One° has never heard his name before in the whole course of one’s life, which speaks volumes for a man, nowadays. But Mrs Allonby is hardly a very suitable person.

Hester I dislike Mrs Allonby.° I dislike her more than I can say.

Lady Caroline I am not sure, Miss Worsley, that foreigners like yourself should cultivate likes or dislikes about the people they are invited to meet. Mrs Allonby is very well born. She is a niece of Lord Brancaster’s. It is said, of course, that she ran away twice before she was married. But you know how unfair people often are. I myself don’t believe she ran away more than once.

Hester Mr Arbuthnot is very charming.

Lady Caroline Ah, yes! the young man who has a post in a bank. Lady Hunstanton is most kind in asking him here, and Lord Illingworth seems to have taken quite a fancy to him. I am not sure, however, that Jane is right in taking him out of his position. In my young days, Miss Worsley, one never met anyone in society who worked for their living.° It was not considered the thing.

Hester In America those are the people we respect most.

Lady Caroline I have no doubt of it.

Hester Mr Arbuthnot has a beautiful nature! He is so simple, so sincere. He has one of the most beautiful natures I have ever come across. It is privilege to meet him.

Lady Caroline It is not customary in England, Miss Worsley, for a young lady to speak with such enthusiasm of any person of the opposite sex. Englishwomen conceal their feelings till after they are married. They show them then.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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