The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde Act III

MISS PRISM.
Lady Bracknell, I admit with shame that I do not know. I only wish I did. The plain facts of the case are these. On the morning of the day you mention, a day that is for ever branded on my memory, I prepared as usual to take the baby out in its perambulator. I had also with me a somewhat old, but capacious hand-bag in which I had intended to place the manuscript of a work of fiction that I had written during my few unoccupied hours. In a moment of mental abstraction, for which I never can forgive myself, I deposited the manuscript in the basinette, and placed the baby in the hand-bag.

JACK.
[Who has been listening attentively.] But where did you deposit the hand-bag?

MISS PRISM.
Do not ask me, Mr. Worthing.

JACK.
Miss Prism, this is a matter of no small importance to me. I insist on knowing where you deposited the hand-bag that contained that infant.

MISS PRISM.
I left it in the cloak-room of one of the larger railway stations in London.

JACK.
What railway station?

MISS PRISM.
[Quite crushed.] Victoria. The Brighton line. [Sinks into a chair.]

JACK.
I must retire to my room for a moment. Gwendolen, wait here for me.

GWENDOLEN.
If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. [Exit Jack in great excitement.]

CHASUBLE.
What do you think this means, Lady Bracknell?

LADY BRACKNELL.
I dare not even suspect, Dr. Chasuble. I need hardly tell you that in families of high position strange coincidences are not supposed to occur. They are hardly considered the thing.

[Noises heard overhead as if some one was throwing trunks about. Every one looks up.]

CECILY.
Uncle Jack seems strangely agitated.

CHASUBLE.
Your guardian has a very emotional nature.

LADY BRACKNELL.
This noise is extremely unpleasant. It sounds as if he was having an argument. I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.

CHASUBLE.
[Looking up.] It has stopped now. [The noise is redoubled.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
I wish he would arrive at some conclusion.

GWENDOLEN.
This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last. [Enter Jack with a hand-bag of black leather in his hand.]

JACK.
[Rushing over to Miss Prism.] Is this the hand-bag, Miss Prism? Examine it carefully before you speak. The happiness of more than one life depends on your answer.

MISS PRISM.
[Calmly.] It seems to be mine. Yes, here is the injury it received through the upsetting of a Gower Street omnibus in younger and happier days. Here is the stain on the lining caused by the explosion of a temperance beverage, an incident that occurred at Leamington. And here, on the lock, are my initials. I had forgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placed there. The bag is undoubtedly mine. I am delighted to have it so unexpectedly restored to me. It has been a great inconvenience being without it all these years.

JACK.
[In a pathetic voice.] Miss Prism, more is restored to you than this hand-bag. I was the baby you placed in it.

MISS PRISM.
[Amazed.] You?

JACK.
[Embracing her.] Yes . . . mother!

MISS PRISM.
[Recoiling in indignant astonishment.] Mr. Worthing! I am unmarried!

JACK.
Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men, and another for women? Mother, I forgive you. [Tries to embrace her again.]

MISS PRISM.
[Still more indignant.] Mr. Worthing, there is some error. [Pointing to Lady Bracknell.] There is the lady who can tell you who you really are.

JACK.
[After a pause.] Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem inquisitive, but would you kindly inform me who I am?

LADY BRACKNELL.
I am afraid that the news I have to give you will not altogether please you. You are the son of my poor sister, Mrs. Moncrieff, and consequently Algernon's elder brother.

JACK.
Algy's elder brother! Then I have a brother after all. I knew I had a brother! I always said I had a brother! Cecily, — how could you have ever doubted that I had a brother? [Seizes hold of Algernon.] Dr. Chasuble, my unfortunate brother. Miss Prism, my unfortunate brother. Gwendolen, my unfortunate brother. Algy, you young scoundrel, you will have to treat me with more respect in the future. You have never behaved to me like a brother in all your life.

ALGERNON.
Well, not till to-day, old boy, I admit. I did my best, however, though I was out of practice.

[Shakes hands.]

GWENDOLEN.
[To Jack.] My own! But what own are you? What is your Christian name, now that you have become some one else?

JACK.
Good heavens! . . . I had quite forgotten that point. Your decision on the subject of my name is irrevocable, I suppose?

GWENDOLEN.
I never change, except in my affections.

CECILY.
What a noble nature you have, Gwendolen!

JACK.
Then the question had better be cleared up at once. Aunt Augusta, a moment. At the time when Miss Prism left me in the hand-bag, had I been christened already?

LADY BRACKNELL.
Every luxury that money could buy, including christening, had been lavished on you by your fond and doting parents.

JACK.
Then I was christened! That is settled. Now, what name was I given? Let me know the worst.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Being the eldest son you were naturally christened after your father.

JACK.
[Irritably.] Yes, but what was my father's Christian name?

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Meditatively.] I cannot at the present moment recall what the General's Christian name was. But I have no doubt he had one. He was eccentric, I admit. But only in later years. And that was the result of the Indian climate, and marriage, and indigestion, and other things of that kind.

JACK.
Algy! Can't you recollect what our father's Christian name was?

ALGERNON.
My dear boy, we were never even on speaking terms. He died before I was a year old.

JACK.
His name would appear in the Army Lists of the period, I suppose, Aunt Augusta?

LADY BRACKNELL.
The General was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life. But I have no doubt his name would appear in any military directory.

JACK.
The Army Lists of the last forty years are here. These delightful records should have been my constant study. [Rushes to bookcase and tears the books out.] M. Generals . . . Mallam, Maxbohm, Magley, what ghastly names they have — Markby, Migsby, Mobbs, Moncrieff! Lieutenant 1840, Captain, Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel, General 1869, Christian names, Ernest John. [Puts book very quietly down and speaks quite calmly.] I always told you, Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn't I? Well, it is Ernest after all. I mean it naturally is Ernest.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Yes, I remember now that the General was called Ernest, I knew I had some particular reason for disliking the name.

GWENDOLEN.
Ernest! My own Ernest! I felt from the first that you could have no other name!

JACK.
Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?

GWENDOLEN.
I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.

JACK.
My own one!

CHASUBLE.
[To Miss Prism.] Laetitia! [Embraces her]

MISS PRISM.
[Enthusiastically.] Frederick! At last!

ALGERNON.
Cecily! [Embraces her.] At last!

JACK.
Gwendolen! [Embraces her.] At last!

LADY BRACKNELL.
My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.

JACK.
On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I've now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.

TABLEAU

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