Morning-room in Algernon’s flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room.
[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]
Algernon: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?
Lane: I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.
Algernon: I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately – any one can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.
Lane: Yes, sir.
Algernon: And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?
Lane: Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.]
Algernon: [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh!… by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing
were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.
Lane: Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.
Algernon: Why is it that at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.
Lane: I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.
Algernon: Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?
Lane: I believe it IS a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.
Algernon: [Languidly.] I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.
Lane: No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.
Algernon: Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.
Lane: Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]
Algernon: Lanes views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.
Lane: Mr. Ernest Worthing.
[Lane goes out.]
Algernon: How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town?
Jack: Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere? Eating as usual, I see, Algy!
Algernon: [Stiffly.] I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o’clock. Where have you been since last Thursday?
Jack: [Sitting down on the sofa.] In the country.
Algernon: What on earth do you do there?
Jack: [Pulling off his gloves.] When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.
Algernon: And who are the people you amuse?
Jack: [Airily.] Oh, neighbours, neighbours.
Algernon: Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?
Jack: Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.
Algernon: How immensely you must amuse them! [Goes over and takes sandwich.] By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?
Jack: Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?
Algernon: Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.
Jack: How perfectly delightful!
Algernon: Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won’t quite approve of your being here.
Jack: May I ask why?