Garden at the Manor House. A flight of grey stone steps leads up to the house. The garden, an old-fashioned one, full of roses. Time of year, July. Basket chairs, and a table covered with books, are set under a large yew-tree.
[MISS PRISM discovered seated at the table. CECILY is at the back watering flowers.]
MISS PRISM. [Calling.] Cecily, Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton's duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table. Pray open it at page fifteen. We will repeat yesterday's lesson.
CECILY. [Coming over very slowly.] But I don't like German. It isn't at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.
MISS PRISM. Child, you know how anxious your guardian is that you should improve yourself in every way. He laid particular stress on your German, as he was leaving for town yesterday. Indeed, he always lays stress on your German when he is leaving for town.
CECILY. Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! Sometimes he is so serious that I think he cannot be quite well
MISS PRISM. [Drawing herself up.] Your guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravity of demeanour is especially to be commanded in one so comparatively young as he is. I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and responsibility.
CECILY. I suppose that is why he often looks a little bored when we three are together.
MISS PRISM. Cecily! I am surprised at you. Mr. Worthing has many troubles in his life. Idle merriment and triviality would be out of place in his conversation. You must remember his constant anxiety about that unfortunate young man his brother.
CECILY. I wish Uncle Jack would allow that unfortunate young man, his brother, to come down here sometimes. We might have a good influence over him, Miss Prism. I am sure you certainly would. You know German, and geology, and things of that kind influence a man very much. [CECILY begins to write in her diary.]
MISS PRISM. [Shaking her head.] I do not think that even I could produce any effect on a character that according to his own brother's admission is irretrievably weak and vacillating. Indeed I am not sure that I would desire to reclaim him. I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice. As a man sows so let him reap. You must put away your diary, Cecily. I really don't see why you should keep a diary at all.
CECILY. I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn't write them down, I should probably forget all about them.
MISS PRISM. Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.
CECILY. Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn't possibly have happened. I believe that Memory is responsible for nearly all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.
MISS PRISM. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.
CECILY. Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.
MISS PRISM. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
CECILY. I suppose so. But it seems very unfair. And was your novel ever published?
MISS PRISM. Alas! no. The manuscript unfortunately was abandoned. [CECILY starts.] I use the word in the sense of lost or mislaid. To your work, child, these speculations are profitless.
CECILY. [Smiling.] But I see dear Dr. Chasuble coming up through the garden.