Second Act

Scene: Morning-room at Sir Robert Chiltern’s house. Lord Goring, dressed in the height of fashion, is lounging in an armchair.° Sir Robert Chiltern is standing in front of the fireplace. He is evidently in a state of great mental excitement and distress. As the scene progresses he paces nervously up and down the room

Lord Goring My dear Robert, it’s a very awkward business, very awkward indeed. You should have told your wife the whole thing. Secrets from other people’s wives are a necessary luxury in modern life. So, at least, I am always told at the club by people who are bald enough° to know better. But no man should have a secret from his own wife. She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.

Sir Robert Chiltern Arthur, I couldn’t tell my wife. When could I have told her? Not last night. It would have made a lifelong separation between us, and I would have lost the love of the one woman in the world I worship, of the only woman who has ever stirred love within me. Last night it would have been quite impossible. She would have turned from me in horror… in horror and in contempt.

Lord Goring Is Lady Chiltern as perfect° as all that?

Sir Robert Chiltern Yes, my wife is as perfect as all that.

Lord Goring (taking off his left-hand glove) What a pity! I beg your pardon, my dear fellow, I didn’t quite mean that. But if what you tell me is true, I should like to have a serious talk about life with Lady Chiltern.

Sir Robert Chiltern It would be quite useless.

Lord Goring May I try?

Sir Robert Chiltern Yes; but nothing could make her alter her views.

Lord Goring Well, at the worst it would simply be a psychological experiment.

Sir Robert Chiltern All such experiments are terribly dangerous.

Lord Goring Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn’t so, life wouldn’t be worth living… Well, I am bound to say that I think you should have told her years ago.

Sir Robert Chiltern When? When we were engaged? Do you think she would have married me if she had known that the origin of my fortune is such as it is, the basis of my career such as it is, and that I had done a thing that I suppose most men would call shameful and dishonourable?

Lord Goring (slowly) Yes; most men would call it ugly names. There is no doubt of that.

Sir Robert Chiltern (bitterly) Men who every day do something of the same kind themselves. Men who, each one of them, have worse secrets in their own lives.

Lord Goring That is the reason they are so pleased to find out other people’s secrets. It distracts public attention from their own.

Sir Robert Chiltern And, after all, whom did I wrong by what I did? No one.

Lord Goring (looking at him steadily) Except yourself, Robert.

[A pause]

  By PanEris using Melati.

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