The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde Act III

THIRD ACT

SCENE

Morning-room at the Manor House.

[Gwendolen and Cecily are at the window, looking out into the garden.]

GWENDOLEN.
The fact that they did not follow us at once into the house, as any one else would have done, seems to me to show that they have some sense of shame left.

CECILY.
They have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance.

GWENDOLEN.
[After a pause.] They don't seem to notice us at all. Couldn't you cough?

CECILY.
But I haven't got a cough.

GWENDOLEN.
They're looking at us. What effrontery!

CECILY.
They're approaching. That's very forward of them.

GWENDOLEN.
Let us preserve a dignified silence.

CECILY.
Certainly. It's the only thing to do now. [Enter Jack followed by Algernon. They whistle some dreadful popular air from a British Opera.]

GWENDOLEN.
This dignified silence seems to produce an unpleasant effect.

CECILY.
A most distasteful one.

GWENDOLEN.
But we will not be the first to speak.

CECILY.
Certainly not.

GWENDOLEN.
Mr. Worthing, I have something very particular to ask you. Much depends on your reply.

CECILY.
Gwendolen, your common sense is invaluable. Mr. Moncrieff, kindly answer me the following question. Why did you pretend to be my guardian's brother?

ALGERNON.
In order that I might have an opportunity of meeting you.

CECILY.
[To Gwendolen.] That certainly seems a satisfactory explanation, does it not?

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, dear, if you can believe him.

CECILY.
I don't. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of his answer.

GWENDOLEN.
True. In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing. Mr. Worthing, what explanation can you offer to me for pretending to have a brother? Was it in order that you might have an opportunity of coming up to town to see me as often as possible?

JACK.
Can you doubt it, Miss Fairfax?

GWENDOLEN.
I have the gravest doubts upon the subject. But I intend to crush them. This is not the moment for German scepticism. [Moving to Cecily.] Their explanations appear to be quite satisfactory, especially Mr. Worthing's. That seems to me to have the stamp of truth upon it.

CECILY.
I am more than content with what Mr. Moncrieff said. His voice alone inspires one with absolute credulity.

GWENDOLEN.
Then you think we should forgive them?

CECILY.
Yes. I mean no.

GWENDOLEN.
True! I had forgotten. There are principles at stake that one cannot surrender. Which of us should tell them? The task is not a pleasant one.

CECILY.
Could we not both speak at the same time?

GWENDOLEN.
An excellent idea! I nearly always speak at the same time as other people. Will you take the time from me?

CECILY.
Certainly. [Gwendolen beats time with uplifted finger.]

Gwendolen and Cecily [Speaking together.] Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier. That is all!

Jack and Algernon [Speaking together.] Our Christian names! Is that all? But we are going to be christened this afternoon.

GWENDOLEN.
[To Jack.] For my sake you are prepared to do this terrible thing?

JACK.
I am.

CECILY.
[To Algernon.] To please me you are ready to face this fearful ordeal?

ALGERNON.
I am!

GWENDOLEN.
How absurd to talk of the equality of the sexes! Where questions of self-sacrifice are concerned, men are infinitely beyond us.

JACK.
We are. [Clasps hands with Algernon.]

CECILY.
They have moments of physical courage of which we women know absolutely nothing.

GWENDOLEN.
[To Jack.] Darling!

ALGERNON.
[To Cecily.] Darling! [They fall into each other's arms.]

[Enter Merriman. When he enters he coughs loudly, seeing the situation.]

MERRIMAN.
Ahem! Ahem! Lady Bracknell!

JACK.
Good heavens!

[Enter Lady Bracknell. The couples separate in alarm. Exit Merriman.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Gwendolen! What does this mean?

GWENDOLEN.
Merely that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Come here. Sit down. Sit down immediately. Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old. [Turns to Jack.] Apprised, sir, of my daughter's sudden flight by her trusty maid, whose confidence I purchased by means of a small coin, I followed her at once by a luggage train. Her unhappy father is, I am glad to say, under the impression that she is attending a more than usually lengthy lecture by the University Extension Scheme on the Influence of a permanent income on Thought. I do not propose to undeceive him. Indeed I have never undeceived him on any question. I would consider it wrong. But of course, you will clearly understand that all communication between yourself and my daughter must cease immediately from this moment. On this point, as indeed on all points, I am firm.

JACK.
I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen Lady Bracknell!

LADY BRACKNELL.
You are nothing of the kind, sir. And now, as regards Algernon! . . . Algernon!

ALGERNON.
Yes, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
May I ask if it is in this house that your invalid friend Mr. Bunbury resides?

ALGERNON.
[Stammering.] Oh! No! Bunbury doesn't live here. Bunbury is somewhere else at present. In fact, Bunbury is dead.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Dead! When did Mr. Bunbury die? His death must have been extremely sudden.

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