The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde Act II: Part 1

[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.

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