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Title: Lady Windermere's Fan
Author: Wilde, Oscar
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1917 Methuen & Co. Ltd edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



                          LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN


                                  A PLAY
                            ABOUT A GOOD WOMAN

                                    BY

                               OSCAR WILDE

                                * * * * *

                            METHUEN & CO. LTD.
                           36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
                                  LONDON

                           _Sixteenth Edition_

_First Published_                                               _1893_
_First Issued by Methuen & Co. Ltd._ (_Limited Editions on      _1908_
Hand-made Paper and Japanese Vellum_) _February_
_Third Edition_ (_F’cap_ 8_vo_, 5_s._ _net_) _September_        _1909_
_Fourth Edition_ (5_s._ _net_) _June_                           _1910_
_Fifth Edition_ (_F’cap_ 8_vo_, 1_s._ _net_) _November 3rd_     _1911_
_Sixth Edition_ (1_s._ _net_) _November_                        _1911_
_Eighth Edition_ (1_s._ _net_) _1912_, _Ninth and Tenth
Editions_ (1_s._ _net_) _1913_, _Eleventh Edition_ (1_s._
_net_) _1914_, _Twelfth Edition_ (1_s._ _net_) _1915_,
_Thirteenth Edition_ (1_s._ _net_) _1916_, _Fourteenth and
Fifteenth Edition_ (1_s._ _net_) _1917_
_Sixteenth Edition_ (5_s._ _net_)                               _1917_

_The literary and dramatic rights of_ “_Lady Windermere’s Fan_” _belong
to Sir George Alexander_, _by arrangement with whom this play is included
in this edition_.  _The acting version_ (_Samuel French_) _does not
contain the complete text_.

                                * * * * *

                                    TO
                             THE DEAR MEMORY
                                    OF
                          ROBERT EARL OF LYTTON
                               IN AFFECTION
                                   AND
                                ADMIRATION

                                * * * * *



THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY


Lord Windermere

Lord Darlington

Lord Augustus Lorton

Mr. Dumby

Mr. Cecil Graham

Mr. Hopper

Parker, Butler

                                * * * * *

Lady Windermere

The Duchess of Berwick

Lady Agatha Carlisle

Lady Plymdale

Lady Stutfield

Lady Jedburgh

Mrs. Cowper-Cowper

Mrs. Erlynne

Rosalie, Maid



THE SCENES OF THE PLAY

ACT I.        _Morning-room in Lord Windermere’s
              house_.
ACT II.       _Drawing-room in Lord Windermere’s
              house_.
ACT III.      _Lord Darlington’s rooms_.
ACT IV.       _Same as Act I._
TIME:         _The Present_.
PLACE:        _London_.

_The action of the play takes place within twenty-four hours_, _beginning
on a Tuesday afternoon at five o’clock_, _and ending the next day at_
1.30 _p.m._



LONDON: ST. JAMES’S THEATRE


               _Lessee and Manager_: _Mr. George Alexander_
                         _February_ 22_nd_, 1892.

LORD WINDERMERE             _Mr. George Alexander_.
LORD DARLINGTON             _Mr. Nutcombe Gould_.
LORD AUGUSTUS LORTON        _Mr. H. H. Vincent_.
MR. CECIL GRAHAM            _Mr. Ben Webster_.
MR. DUMBY                   _Mr. Vane-Tempest_.
MR. HOPPER                  _Mr. Alfred Holles_.
PARKER (_Butler_)           _Mr. V. Sansbury_.
LADY WINDERMERE             _Miss Lily Hanbury_.
THE DUCHESS OF BERWICK      _Miss Fanny Coleman_.
LADY AGATHA CARLISLE        _Miss Laura Graves_.
LADY PLYMDALE               _Miss Granville_.
LADY JEDBURGH               _Miss B. Page_.
LADY STUTFIELD              _Miss Madge Girdlestone_.
MRS. COWPER-COWPER          _Miss A. de Winton_.
MRS. ERLYNNE                _Miss Marion Terry_.
ROSALIE (_Maid_)            _Miss Winifred Dolan_.



FIRST ACT


                                  SCENE

_Morning-room of Lord Windermere’s house in Carlton House Terrace_.
_Doors C. and R.  Bureau with books and papers R._  _Sofa with small
tea-table L._  _Window opening on to terrace L._  _Table R._

[LADY WINDERMERE _is at table R._, _arranging roses in a blue bowl_.]

[_Enter_ PARKER.]

PARKER.  Is your ladyship at home this afternoon?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes—who has called?

PARKER.  Lord Darlington, my lady.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Hesitates for a moment_.]  Show him up—and I’m at
home to any one who calls.

PARKER.  Yes, my lady.

                                                               [_Exit C._]

LADY WINDERMERE.  It’s best for me to see him before to-night.  I’m glad
he’s come.

[_Enter_ PARKER _C._]

PARKER.  Lord Darlington,

[_Enter_ LORD DARLINGTON _C._]

                                                          [_Exit_ PARKER.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  How do you do, Lady Windermere?

LADY WINDERMERE.  How do you do, Lord Darlington?  No, I can’t shake
hands with you.  My hands are all wet with these roses.  Aren’t they
lovely?  They came up from Selby this morning.

LORD DARLINGTON.  They are quite perfect.  [_Sees a fan lying on the
table_.]  And what a wonderful fan!  May I look at it?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Do.  Pretty, isn’t it!  It’s got my name on it, and
everything.  I have only just seen it myself.  It’s my husband’s birthday
present to me.  You know to-day is my birthday?

LORD DARLINGTON.  No?  Is it really?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes, I’m of age to-day.  Quite an important day in my
life, isn’t it?  That is why I am giving this party to-night.  Do sit
down.  [_Still arranging flowers_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Sitting down_.]  I wish I had known it was your
birthday, Lady Windermere.  I would have covered the whole street in
front of your house with flowers for you to walk on.  They are made for
you.

                                                        [_A short pause_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Lord Darlington, you annoyed me last night at the
Foreign Office.  I am afraid you are going to annoy me again.

LORD DARLINGTON.  I, Lady Windermere?

[_Enter_ PARKER _and_ FOOTMAN _C._, _with tray and tea things_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Put it there, Parker.  That will do.  [_Wipes her hands
with her pocket-handkerchief_, _goes to tea-table_, _and sits down_.]
Won’t you come over, Lord Darlington?

                                                      [_Exit_ PARKER _C._]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Takes chair and goes across L.C._]  I am quite
miserable, Lady Windermere.  You must tell me what I did.  [_Sits down at
table L._]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Well, you kept paying me elaborate compliments the
whole evening.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Smiling_.]  Ah, nowadays we are all of us so hard up,
that the only pleasant things to pay _are_ compliments.  They’re the only
things we _can_ pay.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Shaking her head_.]  No, I am talking very seriously.
You mustn’t laugh, I am quite serious.  I don’t like compliments, and I
don’t see why a man should think he is pleasing a woman enormously when
he says to her a whole heap of things that he doesn’t mean.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Ah, but I did mean them.  [_Takes tea which she offers
him_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Gravely_.]  I hope not.  I should be sorry to have to
quarrel with you, Lord Darlington.  I like you very much, you know that.
But I shouldn’t like you at all if I thought you were what most other men
are.  Believe me, you are better than most other men, and I sometimes
think you pretend to be worse.

LORD DARLINGTON.  We all have our little vanities, Lady Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why do you make that your special one?  [_Still seated
at table L._]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Still seated L.C._]  Oh, nowadays so many conceited
people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows
rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad.  Besides,
there is this to be said.  If you pretend to be good, the world takes you
very seriously.  If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t.  Such is the
astounding stupidity of optimism.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Don’t you _want_ the world to take you seriously then,
Lord Darlington?

LORD DARLINGTON.  No, not the world.  Who are the people the world takes
seriously?  All the dull people one can think of, from the Bishops down
to the bores.  I should like _you_ to take me very seriously, Lady
Windermere, _you_ more than any one else in life.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why—why me?

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_After a slight hesitation_.]  Because I think we
might be great friends.  Let us be great friends.  You may want a friend
some day.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why do you say that?

LORD DARLINGTON.  Oh!—we all want friends at times.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I think we’re very good friends already, Lord
Darlington.  We can always remain so as long as you don’t—

LORD DARLINGTON.  Don’t what?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Don’t spoil it by saying extravagant silly things to
me.  You think I am a Puritan, I suppose?  Well, I have something of the
Puritan in me.  I was brought up like that.  I am glad of it.  My mother
died when I was a mere child.  I lived always with Lady Julia, my
father’s elder sister, you know.  She was stern to me, but she taught me
what the world is forgetting, the difference that there is between what
is right and what is wrong.  _She_ allowed of no compromise.  _I_ allow
of none.

LORD DARLINGTON.  My dear Lady Windermere!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Leaning back on the sofa_.]  You look on me as being
behind the age.—Well, I am!  I should be sorry to be on the same level as
an age like this.

LORD DARLINGTON.  You think the age very bad?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes.  Nowadays people seem to look on life as a
speculation.  It is not a speculation.  It is a sacrament.  Its ideal is
Love.  Its purification is sacrifice.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Smiling_.]  Oh, anything is better than being
sacrificed!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Leaning forward_.]  Don’t say that.

LORD DARLINGTON.  I do say it.  I feel it—I know it.

[_Enter_ PARKER _C._]

PARKER.  The men want to know if they are to put the carpets on the
terrace for to-night, my lady?

LADY WINDERMERE.  You don’t think it will rain, Lord Darlington, do you?

LORD DARLINGTON.  I won’t hear of its raining on your birthday!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Tell them to do it at once, Parker.

                                                      [_Exit_ PARKER _C._]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Still seated_.]  Do you think then—of course I am
only putting an imaginary instance—do you think that in the case of a
young married couple, say about two years married, if the husband
suddenly becomes the intimate friend of a woman of—well, more than
doubtful character—is always calling upon her, lunching with her, and
probably paying her bills—do you think that the wife should not console
herself?

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Frowning_.]  Console herself?

LORD DARLINGTON.  Yes, I think she should—I think she has the right.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Because the husband is vile—should the wife be vile
also?

LORD DARLINGTON.  Vileness is a terrible word, Lady Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  It is a terrible thing, Lord Darlington.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great
deal of harm in this world.  Certainly the greatest harm they do is that
they make badness of such extraordinary importance.  It is absurd to
divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious.
I take the side of the charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help
belonging to them.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Now, Lord Darlington.  [_Rising and crossing R._,
_front of him_.]  Don’t stir, I am merely going to finish my flowers.
[_Goes to table R.C._]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Rising and moving chair_.]  And I must say I think
you are very hard on modern life, Lady Windermere.  Of course there is
much against it, I admit.  Most women, for instance, nowadays, are rather
mercenary.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Don’t talk about such people.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Well then, setting aside mercenary people, who, of
course, are dreadful, do you think seriously that women who have
committed what the world calls a fault should never be forgiven?

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Standing at table_.]  I think they should never be
forgiven.

LORD DARLINGTON.  And men?  Do you think that there should be the same
laws for men as there are for women?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Certainly!

LORD DARLINGTON.  I think life too complex a thing to be settled by these
hard and fast rules.

LADY WINDERMERE.  If we had ‘these hard and fast rules,’ we should find
life much more simple.

LORD DARLINGTON.  You allow of no exceptions?

LADY WINDERMERE.  None!

LORD DARLINGTON.  Ah, what a fascinating Puritan you are, Lady
Windermere!

LADY WINDERMERE.  The adjective was unnecessary, Lord Darlington.

LORD DARLINGTON.  I couldn’t help it.  I can resist everything except
temptation.

LADY WINDERMERE.  You have the modern affectation of weakness.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Looking at her_.]  It’s only an affectation, Lady
Windermere.

[_Enter_ PARKER _C._]

PARKER.  The Duchess of Berwick and Lady Agatha Carlisle.

[_Enter the_ DUCHESS OF BERWICK and LADY AGATHA CARLISLE _C._]

                                                      [_Exit_ PARKER _C._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Coming down C._, _and shaking hands_.]  Dear
Margaret, I am so pleased to see you.  You remember Agatha, don’t you?
[_Crossing L.C._]  How do you do, Lord Darlington?  I won’t let you know
my daughter, you are far too wicked.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Don’t say that, Duchess.  As a wicked man I am a
complete failure.  Why, there are lots of people who say I have never
really done anything wrong in the whole course of my life.  Of course
they only say it behind my back.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Isn’t he dreadful?  Agatha, this is Lord Darlington.
Mind you don’t believe a word he says.  [LORD DARLINGTON _crosses R.C._]
No, no tea, thank you, dear.  [_Crosses and sits on sofa_.]  We have just
had tea at Lady Markby’s.  Such bad tea, too.  It was quite undrinkable.
I wasn’t at all surprised.  Her own son-in-law supplies it.  Agatha is
looking forward so much to your ball to-night, dear Margaret.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Seated L.C._]  Oh, you mustn’t think it is going to
be a ball, Duchess.  It is only a dance in honour of my birthday.  A
small and early.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Standing L.C._]  Very small, very early, and very
select, Duchess.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_On sofa L._]  Of course it’s going to be select.
But we know _that_, dear Margaret, about _your_ house.  It is really one
of the few houses in London where I can take Agatha, and where I feel
perfectly secure about dear Berwick.  I don’t know what society is coming
to.  The most dreadful people seem to go everywhere.  They certainly come
to my parties—the men get quite furious if one doesn’t ask them.  Really,
some one should make a stand against it.

LADY WINDERMERE.  _I_ will, Duchess.  I will have no one in my house
about whom there is any scandal.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_R.C._]  Oh, don’t say that, Lady Windermere.  I
should never be admitted!  [_Sitting_.]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Oh, men don’t matter.  With women it is different.
We’re good.  Some of us are, at least.  But we are positively getting
elbowed into the corner.  Our husbands would really forget our existence
if we didn’t nag at them from time to time, just to remind them that we
have a perfect legal right to do so.

LORD DARLINGTON.  It’s a curious thing, Duchess, about the game of
marriage—a game, by the way, that is going out of fashion—the wives hold
all the honours, and invariably lose the odd trick.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.   The odd trick?  Is that the husband, Lord
Darlington?

LORD DARLINGTON.  It would be rather a good name for the modern husband.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Dear Lord Darlington, how thoroughly depraved you
are!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Lord Darlington is trivial.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Ah, don’t say that, Lady Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why do you _talk_ so trivially about life, then?

LORD DARLINGTON.  Because I think that life is far too important a thing
ever to talk seriously about it.  [_Moves up C._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  What does he mean?  Do, as a concession to my poor
wits, Lord Darlington, just explain to me what you really mean.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Coming down back of table_.]  I think I had better
not, Duchess.  Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.  Good-bye!
[_Shakes hands with_ DUCHESS.]  And now—[_goes up stage_] Lady
Windermere, good-bye.  I may come to-night, mayn’t I?  Do let me come.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Standing up stage with_ LORD DARLINGTON.]  Yes,
certainly.  But you are not to say foolish, insincere things to people.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Smiling_.]  Ah! you are beginning to reform me.  It
is a dangerous thing to reform any one, Lady Windermere.  [_Bows_, _and
exit C._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Who has risen_, _goes C._]  What a charming,
wicked creature!  I like him so much.  I’m quite delighted he’s gone!
How sweet you’re looking!  Where _do_ you get your gowns?  And now I must
tell you how sorry I am for you, dear Margaret.  [_Crosses to sofa and
sits with_ LADY WINDERMERE.]  Agatha, darling!

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.  [_Rises_.]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Will you go and look over the photograph album that
I see there?

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.  [_Goes to table up L._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Dear girl!  She is so fond of photographs of
Switzerland.  Such a pure taste, I think.  But I really am so sorry for
you, Margaret.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Smiling_.]  Why, Duchess?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Oh, on account of that horrid woman.  She dresses so
well, too, which makes it much worse, sets such a dreadful example.
Augustus—you know my disreputable brother—such a trial to us all—well,
Augustus is completely infatuated about her.  It is quite scandalous, for
she is absolutely inadmissible into society.  Many a woman has a past,
but I am told that she has at least a dozen, and that they all fit.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Whom are you talking about, Duchess?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  About Mrs. Erlynne.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Mrs. Erlynne?  I never heard of her, Duchess.  And what
_has_ she to do with me?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  My poor child!  Agatha, darling!

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Will you go out on the terrace and look at the
sunset?

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

                                             [_Exit through window_, _L._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Sweet girl!  So devoted to sunsets!  Shows such
refinement of feeling, does it not?  After all, there is nothing like
Nature, is there?

LADY WINDERMERE.  But what is it, Duchess?  Why do you talk to me about
this person?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Don’t you really know?  I assure you we’re all so
distressed about it.  Only last night at dear Lady Jansen’s every one was
saying how extraordinary it was that, of all men in London, Windermere
should behave in such a way.

LADY WINDERMERE.  My husband—what has _he_ got to do with any woman of
that kind?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Ah, what indeed, dear?  That is the point.  He goes
to see her continually, and stops for hours at a time, and while he is
there she is not at home to any one.  Not that many ladies call on her,
dear, but she has a great many disreputable men friends—my own brother
particularly, as I told you—and that is what makes it so dreadful about
Windermere.  We looked upon _him_ as being such a model husband, but I am
afraid there is no doubt about it.  My dear nieces—you know the Saville
girls, don’t you?—such nice domestic creatures—plain, dreadfully plain,
but so good—well, they’re always at the window doing fancy work, and
making ugly things for the poor, which I think so useful of them in these
dreadful socialistic days, and this terrible woman has taken a house in
Curzon Street, right opposite them—such a respectable street, too!  I
don’t know what we’re coming to!  And they tell me that Windermere goes
there four and five times a week—they _see_ him.  They can’t help it—and
although they never talk scandal, they—well, of course—they remark on it
to every one.  And the worst of it all is that I have been told that this
woman has got a great deal of money out of somebody, for it seems that
she came to London six months ago without anything at all to speak of,
and now she has this charming house in Mayfair, drives her ponies in the
Park every afternoon and all—well, all—since she has known poor dear
Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Oh, I can’t believe it!

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  But it’s quite true, my dear.  The whole of London
knows it.  That is why I felt it was better to come and talk to you, and
advise you to take Windermere away at once to Homburg or to Aix, where
he’ll have something to amuse him, and where you can watch him all day
long.  I assure you, my dear, that on several occasions after I was first
married, I had to pretend to be very ill, and was obliged to drink the
most unpleasant mineral waters, merely to get Berwick out of town.  He
was so extremely susceptible.  Though I am bound to say he never gave
away any large sums of money to anybody.  He is far too high-principled
for that!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Interrupting_.]  Duchess, Duchess, it’s impossible!
[_Rising and crossing stage to C._]  We are only married two years.  Our
child is but six months old.  [_Sits in chair R. of L. table_.]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Ah, the dear pretty baby!  How is the little
darling?  Is it a boy or a girl?  I hope a girl—Ah, no, I remember it’s a
boy!  I’m so sorry.  Boys are so wicked.  My boy is excessively immoral.
You wouldn’t believe at what hours he comes home.  And he’s only left
Oxford a few months—I really don’t know what they teach them there.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Are _all_ men bad?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Oh, all of them, my dear, all of them, without any
exception.  And they never grow any better.  Men become old, but they
never become good.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Windermere and I married for love.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Yes, we begin like that.  It was only Berwick’s
brutal and incessant threats of suicide that made me accept him at all,
and before the year was out, he was running after all kinds of
petticoats, every colour, every shape, every material.  In fact, before
the honeymoon was over, I caught him winking at my maid, a most pretty,
respectable girl.  I dismissed her at once without a character.—No, I
remember I passed her on to my sister; poor dear Sir George is so
short-sighted, I thought it wouldn’t matter.  But it did, though—it was
most unfortunate.  [_Rises_.]  And now, my dear child, I must go, as we
are dining out.  And mind you don’t take this little aberration of
Windermere’s too much to heart.  Just take him abroad, and he’ll come
back to you all right.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Come back to me?  [_C._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.   [_L.C._]  Yes, dear, these wicked women get our
husbands away from us, but they always come back, slightly damaged, of
course.  And don’t make scenes, men hate them!

LADY WINDERMERE.  It is very kind of you, Duchess, to come and tell me
all this.  But I can’t believe that my husband is untrue to me.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Pretty child!  I was like that once.  Now I know
that all men are monsters.  [LADY WINDERMERE _rings bell_.]  The only
thing to do is to feed the wretches well.  A good cook does wonders, and
that I know you have.  My dear Margaret, you are not going to cry?

LADY WINDERMERE.  You needn’t be afraid, Duchess, I never cry.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  That’s quite right, dear.  Crying is the refuge of
plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.  Agatha, darling!

LADY AGATHA.  [_Entering L._]  Yes, mamma.  [_Stands back of table L.C._]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Come and bid good-bye to Lady Windermere, and thank
her for your charming visit.  [_Coming down again_.]  And by the way, I
must thank you for sending a card to Mr. Hopper—he’s that rich young
Australian people are taking such notice of just at present.  His father
made a great fortune by selling some kind of food in circular tins—most
palatable, I believe—I fancy it is the thing the servants always refuse
to eat.  But the son is quite interesting.  I think he’s attracted by
dear Agatha’s clever talk.  Of course, we should be very sorry to lose
her, but I think that a mother who doesn’t part with a daughter every
season has no real affection.  We’re coming to-night, dear.  [PARKER
_opens C. doors_.]  And remember my advice, take the poor fellow out of
town at once, it is the only thing to do.  Good-bye, once more; come,
Agatha.

                                 [_Exeunt_ DUCHESS _and_ LADY AGATHA _C._]

LADY WINDERMERE.  How horrible!  I understand now what Lord Darlington
meant by the imaginary instance of the couple not two years married.  Oh!
it can’t be true—she spoke of enormous sums of money paid to this woman.
I know where Arthur keeps his bank book—in one of the drawers of that
desk.  I might find out by that.  I _will_ find out.  [_Opens drawer_.]
No, it is some hideous mistake.  [_Rises and goes C._]  Some silly
scandal!  He loves _me_!  He loves _me_!  But why should I not look?  I
am his wife, I have a right to look!  [_Returns to bureau_, _takes out
book and examines it page by page_, _smiles and gives a sigh of relief_.]
I knew it! there is not a word of truth in this stupid story.  [_Puts
book back in dranver_.  _As the does so_, _starts and takes out another
book_.]  A second book—private—locked!  [_Tries to open it_, _but fails_.
_Sees paper knife on bureau_, _and with it cuts cover from book_.
_Begins to start at the first page_.]  ‘Mrs. Erlynne—£600—Mrs.
Erlynne—£700—Mrs. Erlynne—£400.’  Oh! it is true!  It is true!  How
horrible!  [_Throws book on floor_.]

                                            [_Enter_ LORD WINDERMERE _C._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Well, dear, has the fan been sent home yet?  [_Going
R.C._  _Sees book_.]  Margaret, you have cut open my bank book.  You have
no right to do such a thing!

LADY WINDERMERE.  You think it wrong that you are found out, don’t you?

LORD WINDERMERE.  I think it wrong that a wife should spy on her husband.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I did not spy on you.  I never knew of this woman’s
existence till half an hour ago.  Some one who pitied me was kind enough
to tell me what every one in London knows already—your daily visits to
Curzon Street, your mad infatuation, the monstrous sums of money you
squander on this infamous woman!  [_Crossing L._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret! don’t talk like that of Mrs. Erlynne, you
don’t know how unjust it is!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Turning to him_.]  You are very jealous of Mrs.
Erlynne’s honour.  I wish you had been as jealous of mine.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Your honour is untouched, Margaret.  You don’t think
for a moment that—[_Puts book back into desk_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  I think that you spend your money strangely.  That is
all.  Oh, don’t imagine I mind about the money.  As far as I am
concerned, you may squander everything we have.  But what I _do_ mind is
that you who have loved me, you who have taught me to love you, should
pass from the love that is given to the love that is bought.  Oh, it’s
horrible!  [_Sits on sofa_.]  And it is I who feel degraded! _you_ don’t
feel anything.  I feel stained, utterly stained.  You can’t realise how
hideous the last six months seems to me now—every kiss you have given me
is tainted in my memory.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Crossing to her_.]  Don’t say that, Margaret.  I
never loved any one in the whole world but you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Rises_.]  Who is this woman, then?  Why do you take a
house for her?

LORD WINDERMERE.  I did not take a house for her.

LADY WINDERMERE.  You gave her the money to do it, which is the same
thing.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, as far as I have known Mrs. Erlynne—

LADY WINDERMERE.  Is there a Mr. Erlynne—or is he a myth?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Her husband died many years ago.  She is alone in the
world.

LADY WINDERMERE.  No relations?  [_A pause_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  None.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Rather curious, isn’t it?  [_L._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_L.C._]  Margaret, I was saying to you—and I beg you
to listen to me—that as far as I have known Mrs. Erlynne, she has
conducted herself well.  If years ago—

LADY WINDERMERE.  Oh!  [_Crossing R.C._]  I don’t want details about her
life!

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_C._]  I am not going to give you any details about
her life.  I tell you simply this—Mrs. Erlynne was once honoured, loved,
respected.  She was well born, she had position—she lost everything—threw
it away, if you like.  That makes it all the more bitter.  Misfortunes
one can endure—they come from outside, they are accidents.  But to suffer
for one’s own faults—ah!—there is the sting of life.  It was twenty years
ago, too.  She was little more than a girl then.  She had been a wife for
even less time than you have.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I am not interested in her—and—you should not mention
this woman and me in the same breath.  It is an error of taste.
[_Sitting R. at desk_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, you could save this woman.  She wants to get
back into society, and she wants you to help her.  [_Crossing to her_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Me!

LORD WINDERMERE.  Yes, you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  How impertinent of her!  [_A pause_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, I came to ask you a great favour, and I still
ask it of you, though you have discovered what I had intended you should
never have known that I have given Mrs. Erlynne a large sum of money.  I
want you to send her an invitation for our party to-night.  [_Standing L.
of her_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  You are mad!  [_Rises_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  I entreat you.  People may chatter about her, do
chatter about her, of course, but they don’t know anything definite
against her.  She has been to several houses—not to houses where you
would go, I admit, but still to houses where women who are in what is
called Society nowadays do go.  That does not content her.  She wants you
to receive her once.

LADY WINDERMERE.  As a triumph for her, I suppose?

LORD WINDERMERE.  No; but because she knows that you are a good woman—and
that if she comes here once she will have a chance of a happier, a surer
life than she has had.  She will make no further effort to know you.
Won’t you help a woman who is trying to get back?

LADY WINDERMERE.  No!  If a woman really repents, she never wishes to
return to the society that has made or seen her ruin.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I beg of you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Crossing to door R._]  I am going to dress for
dinner, and don’t mention the subject again this evening.  Arthur [_going
to him C._], you fancy because I have no father or mother that I am alone
in the world, and that you can treat me as you choose.  You are wrong, I
have friends, many friends.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_L.C._]  Margaret, you are talking foolishly,
recklessly.  I won’t argue with you, but I insist upon your asking Mrs.
Erlynne to-night.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_R.C._]  I shall do nothing of the kind.  [_Crossing
L.C._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  You refuse?  [_C._]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Absolutely!

LORD WINDERMERE.  Ah, Margaret, do this for my sake; it is her last
chance.

LADY WINDERMERE.  What has that to do with me?

LORD WINDERMERE.  How hard good women are!

LADY WINDERMERE.  How weak bad men are!

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, none of us men may be good enough for the
women we marry—that is quite true—but you don’t imagine I would ever—oh,
the suggestion is monstrous!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why should _you_ be different from other men?  I am
told that there is hardly a husband in London who does not waste his life
over _some_ shameful passion.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I am not one of them.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I am not sure of that!

LORD WINDERMERE.  You are sure in your heart.  But don’t make chasm after
chasm between us.  God knows the last few minutes have thrust us wide
enough apart.  Sit down and write the card.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Nothing in the whole world would induce me.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Crossing to bureau_.]  Then I will!  [_Rings electric
bell_, _sits and writes card_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  You are going to invite this woman?  [_Crossing to
him_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Yes.  [_Pause_.  _Enter_ PARKER.]  Parker!

PARKER.  Yes, my lord.  [_Comes down L.C._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Have this note sent to Mrs. Erlynne at No. 84A Curzon
Street.  [_Crossing to L.C. and giving note to_ PARKER.]  There is no
answer!

                                                      [_Exit_ PARKER _C._]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Arthur, if that woman comes here, I shall insult her.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, don’t say that.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I mean it.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Child, if you did such a thing, there’s not a woman in
London who wouldn’t pity you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  There is not a _good_ woman in London who would not
applaud me.  We have been too lax.  We must make an example.  I propose
to begin to-night.  [_Picking up fan_.]  Yes, you gave me this fan
to-day; it was your birthday present.  If that woman crosses my
threshold, I shall strike her across the face with it.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, you couldn’t do such a thing.

LADY WINDERMERE.  You don’t know me!  [_Moves R._]

[_Enter_ PARKER.]

Parker!

PARKER.  Yes, my lady.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I shall dine in my own room.  I don’t want dinner, in
fact.  See that everything is ready by half-past ten.  And, Parker, be
sure you pronounce the names of the guests very distinctly to-night.
Sometimes you speak so fast that I miss them.  I am particularly anxious
to hear the names quite clearly, so as to make no mistake.  You
understand, Parker?

PARKER.  Yes, my lady.

LADY WINDERMERE.  That will do!

                                                      [_Exit_ PARKER _C._]

[_Speaking to_ LORD WINDERMERE.]  Arthur, if that woman comes here—I warn
you—

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, you’ll ruin us!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Us!  From this moment my life is separate from yours.
But if you wish to avoid a public scandal, write at once to this woman,
and tell her that I forbid her to come here!

LORD WINDERMERE.  I will not—I cannot—she must come!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Then I shall do exactly as I have said.  [_Goes R._]
You leave me no choice.

                                                               [_Exit R._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Calling after her_.]  Margaret!  Margaret!  [_A
pause_.]  My God!  What shall I do?  I dare not tell her who this woman
really is.  The shame would kill her.  [_Sinks down into a chair and
buries his face in his hands_.]

                                * * * * *

                                 ACT DROP



SECOND ACT


                                  SCENE

_Drawing-room in Lord Windermere’s house_.  _Door R.U. opening into
ball-room_, _where band is playing_.  _Door L. through which guests are
entering_.  _Door L.U. opens on to illuminated terrace_.  _Palms_,
_flowers_, _and brilliant lights_.  _Room crowded with guests_.  _Lady
Windermere is receiving them_.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Up C._]  So strange Lord Windermere isn’t here.
Mr. Hopper is very late, too.  You have kept those five dances for him,
Agatha?  [_Comes down_.]

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Sitting on sofa_.]  Just let me see your card.
I’m so glad Lady Windermere has revived cards.—They’re a mother’s only
safeguard.  You dear simple little thing!  [_Scratches out two names_.]
No nice girl should ever waltz with such particularly younger sons!  It
looks so fast!  The last two dances you might pass on the terrace with
Mr. Hopper.

[_Enter_ MR. DUMBY _and_ LADY PLYMDALE _from the ball-room_.]

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Fanning herself_.]  The air is so pleasant there.

PARKER.  Mrs. Cowper-Cowper.  Lady Stutfield.  Sir James Royston.  Mr.
Guy Berkeley.

[_These people enter as announced_.]

DUMBY.  Good evening, Lady Stutfield.  I suppose this will be the last
ball of the season?

LADY STUTFIELD.  I suppose so, Mr. Dumby.  It’s been a delightful season,
hasn’t it?

DUMBY.  Quite delightful!  Good evening, Duchess.  I suppose this will be
the last ball of the season?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  I suppose so, Mr. Dumby.  It has been a very dull
season, hasn’t it?

DUMBY.  Dreadfully dull!  Dreadfully dull!

MR. COWPER-COWPER.  Good evening, Mr. Dumby.  I suppose this will be the
last ball of the season?

DUMBY.  Oh, I think not.  There’ll probably be two more.  [_Wanders back
to_ LADY PLYMDALE.]

PARKER.  Mr. Rufford.  Lady Jedburgh and Miss Graham.  Mr. Hopper.

[_These people enter as announced_.]

HOPPER.  How do you do, Lady Windermere?  How do you do, Duchess?  [_Bows
to_ LADY AGATHA.]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Dear Mr. Hopper, how nice of you to come so early.
We all know how you are run after in London.

HOPPER.  Capital place, London!  They are not nearly so exclusive in
London as they are in Sydney.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Ah! we know your value, Mr. Hopper.  We wish there
were more like you.  It would make life so much easier.  Do you know, Mr.
Hopper, dear Agatha and I are so much interested in Australia.  It must
be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about.  Agatha has
found it on the map.  What a curious shape it is!  Just like a large
packing case.  However, it is a very young country, isn’t it?

HOPPER.  Wasn’t it made at the same time as the others, Duchess?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  How clever you are, Mr. Hopper.  You have a
cleverness quite of your own.  Now I mustn’t keep you.

HOPPER.  But I should like to dance with Lady Agatha, Duchess.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Well, I hope she has a dance left.  Have you a dance
left, Agatha?

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  The next one?

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

HOPPER.  May I have the pleasure?  [LADY AGATHA _bows_.]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Mind you take great care of my little chatterbox,
Mr. Hopper.

[LADY AGATHA _and_ MR. HOPPER _pass into ball-room_.]

[_Enter_ LORD WINDERMERE.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Margaret, I want to speak to you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  In a moment.  [_The music drops_.]

PARKER.  Lord Augustus Lorton.

[_Enter_ LORD AUGUSTUS.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Good evening, Lady Windermere.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Sir James, will you take me into the ball-room?
Augustus has been dining with us to-night.  I really have had quite
enough of dear Augustus for the moment.

[SIR JAMES ROYSTON _gives the_ DUCHESS _his aim and escorts her into the
ball-room_.]

PARKER.  Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Bowden.  Lord and Lady Paisley.  Lord
Darlington.

[_These people enter as announced_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Coming up to_ LORD WINDERMERE.]  Want to speak to you
particularly, dear boy.  I’m worn to a shadow.  Know I don’t look it.
None of us men do look what we really are.  Demmed good thing, too.  What
I want to know is this.  Who is she?  Where does she come from?  Why
hasn’t she got any demmed relations?  Demmed nuisance, relations!  But
they make one so demmed respectable.

LORD WINDERMERE.  You are talking of Mrs. Erlynne, I suppose?  I only met
her six months ago.  Till then, I never knew of her existence.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  You have seen a good deal of her since then.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Coldly_.]  Yes, I have seen a good deal of her since
then.  I have just seen her.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Egad! the women are very down on her.  I have been dining
with Arabella this evening!  By Jove! you should have heard what she said
about Mrs. Erlynne.  She didn’t leave a rag on her. . . . [_Aside_.]
Berwick and I told her that didn’t matter much, as the lady in question
must have an extremely fine figure.  You should have seen Arabella’s
expression! . . . But, look here, dear boy.  I don’t know what to do
about Mrs. Erlynne.  Egad!  I might be married to her; she treats me with
such demmed indifference.  She’s deuced clever, too!  She explains
everything.  Egad! she explains you.  She has got any amount of
explanations for you—and all of them different.

LORD WINDERMERE.  No explanations are necessary about my friendship with
Mrs. Erlynne.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Hem!  Well, look here, dear old fellow.  Do you think she
will ever get into this demmed thing called Society?  Would you introduce
her to your wife?  No use beating about the confounded bush.  Would you
do that?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Mrs. Erlynne is coming here to-night.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Your wife has sent her a card?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Mrs. Erlynne has received a card.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Then she’s all right, dear boy.  But why didn’t you tell
me that before?  It would have saved me a heap of worry and demmed
misunderstandings!

[LADY AGATHA _and_ MR. HOPPER _cross and exit on terrace L.U.E._]

PARKER.  Mr. Cecil Graham!

[_Enter_ MR. CECIL GRAHAM.]

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_Bows to_ LADY WINDERMERE, _passes over and shakes hands
with_ LORD WINDERMERE.]  Good evening, Arthur.  Why don’t you ask me how
I am?  I like people to ask me how I am.  It shows a wide-spread interest
in my health.  Now, to-night I am not at all well.  Been dining with my
people.  Wonder why it is one’s people are always so tedious?  My father
would talk morality after dinner.  I told him he was old enough to know
better.  But my experience is that as soon as people are old enough to
know better, they don’t know anything at all.  Hallo, Tuppy!  Hear you’re
going to be married again; thought you were tired of that game.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  You’re excessively trivial, my dear boy, excessively
trivial!

CECIL GRAHAM.  By the way, Tuppy, which is it?  Have you been twice
married and once divorced, or twice divorced and once married?  I say
you’ve been twice divorced and once married.  It seems so much more
probable.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  I have a very bad memory.  I really don’t remember which.
[_Moves away R._]

LADY PLYMDALE.  Lord Windermere, I’ve something most particular to ask
you.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I am afraid—if you will excuse me—I must join my wife.

LADY PLYMDALE.  Oh, you mustn’t dream of such a thing.  It’s most
dangerous nowadays for a husband to pay any attention to his wife in
public.  It always makes people think that he beats her when they’re
alone.  The world has grown so suspicious of anything that looks like a
happy married life.  But I’ll tell you what it is at supper.  [_Moves
towards door of ball-room_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_C._]  Margaret!  I _must_ speak to you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Will you hold my fan for me, Lord Darlington?  Thanks.
[_Comes down to him_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Crossing to her_.]  Margaret, what you said before
dinner was, of course, impossible?

LADY WINDERMERE.  That woman is not coming here to-night!

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_R.C._]  Mrs. Erlynne is coming here, and if you in
any way annoy or wound her, you will bring shame and sorrow on us both.
Remember that!  Ah, Margaret! only trust me!  A wife should trust her
husband!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_C._]  London is full of women who trust their
husbands.  One can always recognise them.  They look so thoroughly
unhappy.  I am not going to be one of them.  [_Moves up_.]  Lord
Darlington, will you give me back my fan, please?  Thanks. . . . A useful
thing a fan, isn’t it? . . . I want a friend to-night, Lord Darlington: I
didn’t know I would want one so soon.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Lady Windermere!  I knew the time would come some day;
but why to-night?

LORD WINDERMERE.  I _will_ tell her.  I must.  It would be terrible if
there were any scene.  Margaret . . .

PARKER.  Mrs. Erlynne!

[LORD WINDERMERE _starts_.  MRS. ERLYNNE _enters_, _very beautifully
dressed and very dignified_.  LADY WINDERMERE _clutches at her fan_,
_then lets it drop on the door_.  _She bows coldly to_ MRS. ERLYNNE, _who
bows to her sweetly in turn_, _and sails into the room_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  You have dropped your fan, Lady Windermere.  [_Picks it
up and hands it to her_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_C._]  How do you do, again, Lord Windermere?  How
charming your sweet wife looks!  Quite a picture!

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_In a low voice_.]  It was terribly rash of you to
come!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Smiling_.]  The wisest thing I ever did in my life.
And, by the way, you must pay me a good deal of attention this evening.
I am afraid of the women.  You must introduce me to some of them.  The
men I can always manage.  How do you do, Lord Augustus?  You have quite
neglected me lately.  I have not seen you since yesterday.  I am afraid
you’re faithless.  Every one told me so.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_R._]  Now really, Mrs. Erlynne, allow me to explain.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_R.C._]  No, dear Lord Augustus, you can’t explain
anything.  It is your chief charm.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Ah! if you find charms in me, Mrs. Erlynne—

[_They converse together_.  LORD WINDERMERE _moves uneasily about the
room watching_ MRS. ERLYNNE.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_To_ LADY WINDERMERE.]  How pale you are!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Cowards are always pale!

LORD DARLINGTON.  You look faint.  Come out on the terrace.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes.  [_To_ PARKER.]  Parker, send my cloak out.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Crossing to her_.]  Lady Windermere, how beautifully
your terrace is illuminated.  Reminds me of Prince Doria’s at Rome.

[LADY WINDERMERE _bows coldly_, _and goes off with_ LORD DARLINGTON.]

Oh, how do you do, Mr. Graham?  Isn’t that your aunt, Lady Jedburgh?  I
should so much like to know her.

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_After a moment’s hesitation and embarrassment_.]  Oh,
certainly, if you wish it.  Aunt Caroline, allow me to introduce Mrs.
Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  So pleased to meet you, Lady Jedburgh.  [_Sits beside her
on the sofa_.]  Your nephew and I are great friends.  I am so much
interested in his political career.  I think he’s sure to be a wonderful
success.  He thinks like a Tory, and talks like a Radical, and that’s so
important nowadays.  He’s such a brilliant talker, too.  But we all know
from whom he inherits that.  Lord Allandale was saying to me only
yesterday, in the Park, that Mr. Graham talks almost as well as his aunt.

LADY JEDBURGH.  [_R._]  Most kind of you to say these charming things to
me!  [MRS. ERLYNNE _smiles_, _and continues conversation_.]

DUMBY.  [_To_ CECIL GRAHAM.]  Did you introduce Mrs. Erlynne to Lady
Jedburgh?

CECIL GRAHAM.  Had to, my dear fellow.  Couldn’t help it!  That woman can
make one do anything she wants.  How, I don’t know.

DUMBY.  Hope to goodness she won’t speak to me!  [_Saunters towards_ LADY
PLYMDALE.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_C._  _To_ LADY JEDBURGH.]  On Thursday?  With great
pleasure.  [_Rises_, _and speaks to_ LORD WINDERMERE, _laughing_.]  What
a bore it is to have to be civil to these old dowagers!  But they always
insist on it!

LADY PLYMDALE.  [_To_ MR. DUMBY.]  Who is that well-dressed woman talking
to Windermere?

DUMBY.  Haven’t got the slightest idea!  Looks like an _édition de luxe_
of a wicked French novel, meant specially for the English market.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  So that is poor Dumby with Lady Plymdale?  I hear she is
frightfully jealous of him.  He doesn’t seem anxious to speak to me
to-night.  I suppose he is afraid of her.  Those straw-coloured women
have dreadful tempers.  Do you know, I think I’ll dance with you first,
Windermere.  [LORD WINDERMERE _bits his lip and frowns_.]  It will make
Lord Augustus so jealous!  Lord Augustus!  [LORD AUGUSTUS _comes down_.]
Lord Windermere insists on my dancing with him first, and, as it’s his
own house, I can’t well refuse.  You know I would much sooner dance with
you.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_With a low bow_.]  I wish I could think so, Mrs.
Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You know it far too well.  I can fancy a person dancing
through life with you and finding it charming.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Placing his hand on his white waistcoat_.]  Oh, thank
you, thank you.  You are the most adorable of all ladies!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  What a nice speech!  So simple and so sincere!  Just the
sort of speech I like.  Well, you shall hold my bouquet.  [_Goes towards
ball-room on_ LORD WINDERMERE’S _arm_.]  Ah, Mr. Dumby, how are you?  I
am so sorry I have been out the last three times you have called.  Come
and lunch on Friday.

DUMBY.  [_With perfect nonchalance_.]  Delighted!

[LADY PLYMDALE _glares with indignation at_ MR. DUMBY.  LORD AUGUSTUS
_follows_ MRS. ERLYNNE _and_ LORD WINDERMERE _into the ball-room holding
bouquet_.]

LADY PLYMDALE.  [_To_ MR. DUMBY.]  What an absolute brute you are!  I
never can believe a word you say!  Why did you tell me you didn’t know
her?  What do you mean by calling on her three times running?  You are
not to go to lunch there; of course you understand that?

DUMBY.  My dear Laura, I wouldn’t dream of going!

LADY PLYMDALE.  You haven’t told me her name yet!  Who is she?

DUMBY.  [_Coughs slightly and smooths his hair_.]  She’s a Mrs. Erlynne.

LADY PLYMDALE.  That woman!

DUMBY.  Yes; that is what every one calls her.

LADY PLYMDALE.  How very interesting!  How intensely interesting!  I
really must have a good stare at her.  [_Goes to door of ball-room and
looks in_.]  I have heard the most shocking things about her.  They say
she is ruining poor Windermere.  And Lady Windermere, who goes in for
being so proper, invites her!  How extremely amusing!  It takes a
thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing.  You are to lunch
there on Friday!

DUMBY.  Why?

LADY PLYMDALE.  Because I want you to take my husband with you.  He has
been so attentive lately, that he has become a perfect nuisance.  Now,
this woman is just the thing for him.  He’ll dance attendance upon her as
long as she lets him, and won’t bother me.  I assure you, women of that
kind are most useful.  They form the basis of other people’s marriages.

DUMBY.  What a mystery you are!

LADY PLYMDALE.  [_Looking at him_.]  I wish _you_ were!

DUMBY.  I am—to myself.  I am the only person in the world I should like
to know thoroughly; but I don’t see any chance of it just at present.

[_They pass into the ball-room_, _and_ LADY WINDERMERE _and_ LORD
DARLINGTON _enter from the terrace_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes.  Her coming here is monstrous, unbearable.  I know
now what you meant to-day at tea-time.  Why didn’t you tell me right out?
You should have!

LORD DARLINGTON.  I couldn’t!  A man can’t tell these things about
another man!  But if I had known he was going to make you ask her here
to-night, I think I would have told you.  That insult, at any rate, you
would have been spared.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I did not ask her.  He insisted on her coming—against
my entreaties—against my commands.  Oh! the house is tainted for me!  I
feel that every woman here sneers at me as she dances by with my husband.
What have I done to deserve this?  I gave him all my life.  He took
it—used it—spoiled it!  I am degraded in my own eyes; and I lack
courage—I am a coward!  [_Sits down on sofa_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  If I know you at all, I know that you can’t live with a
man who treats you like this!  What sort of life would you have with him?
You would feel that he was lying to you every moment of the day.  You
would feel that the look in his eyes was false, his voice false, his
touch false, his passion false.  He would come to you when he was weary
of others; you would have to comfort him.  He would come to you when he
was devoted to others; you would have to charm him.  You would have to be
to him the mask of his real life, the cloak to hide his secret.

LADY WINDERMERE.  You are right—you are terribly right.  But where am I
to turn?  You said you would be my friend, Lord Darlington.—Tell me, what
am I to do?  Be my friend now.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Between men and women there is no friendship possible.
There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.  I love you—

LADY WINDERMERE.  No, no!  [_Rises_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  Yes, I love you!  You are more to me than anything in
the whole world.  What does your husband give you?  Nothing.  Whatever is
in him he gives to this wretched woman, whom he has thrust into your
society, into your home, to shame you before every one.  I offer you my
life—

LADY WINDERMERE.  Lord Darlington!

LORD DARLINGTON.  My life—my whole life.  Take it, and do with it what
you will. . . . I love you—love you as I have never loved any living
thing.  From the moment I met you I loved you, loved you blindly,
adoringly, madly!  You did not know it then—you know it now!  Leave this
house to-night.  I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the
world’s voice, or the voice of society.  They matter a great deal.  They
matter far too much.  But there are moments when one has to choose
between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging
out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its
hypocrisy demands.  You have that moment now.  Choose!  Oh, my love,
choose.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Moving slowly away from him_, _and looking at him
with startled eyes_.]  I have not the courage.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Following her_.]  Yes; you have the courage.  There
may be six months of pain, of disgrace even, but when you no longer bear
his name, when you bear mine, all will be well.  Margaret, my love, my
wife that shall be some day—yes, my wife!  You know it!  What are you
now?  This woman has the place that belongs by right to you.  Oh! go—go
out of this house, with head erect, with a smile upon your lips, with
courage in your eyes.  All London will know why you did it; and who will
blame you?  No one.  If they do, what matter?  Wrong?  What is wrong?
It’s wrong for a man to abandon his wife for a shameless woman.  It is
wrong for a wife to remain with a man who so dishonours her.  You said
once you would make no compromise with things.  Make none now.  Be brave!
Be yourself!

LADY WINDERMERE.  I am afraid of being myself.  Let me think!  Let me
wait!  My husband may return to me.  [_Sits down on sofa_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  And you would take him back!  You are not what I
thought you were.  You are just the same as every other woman.  You would
stand anything rather than face the censure of a world, whose praise you
would despise.  In a week you will be driving with this woman in the
Park.  She will be your constant guest—your dearest friend.  You would
endure anything rather than break with one blow this monstrous tie.  You
are right.  You have no courage; none!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Ah, give me time to think.  I cannot answer you now.
[_Passes her hand nervously over her brow_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  It must be now or not at all.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Rising from the sofa_.]  Then, not at all!  [_A
pause_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  You break my heart!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Mine is already broken.  [_A pause_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  To-morrow I leave England.  This is the last time I
shall ever look on you.  You will never see me again.  For one moment our
lives met—our souls touched.  They must never meet or touch again.
Good-bye, Margaret.  [_Exit_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  How alone I am in life!  How terribly alone!

[_The music stops_.  _Enter the_ DUCHESS OF BERWICK _and_ LORD PAISLEY
_laughing and talking_.  _Other guests come on from ball-room_.]

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Dear Margaret, I’ve just been having such a
delightful chat with Mrs. Erlynne.  I am so sorry for what I said to you
this afternoon about her.  Of course, she must be all right if _you_
invite her.  A most attractive woman, and has such sensible views on
life.  Told me she entirely disapproved of people marrying more than
once, so I feel quite safe about poor Augustus.  Can’t imagine why people
speak against her.  It’s those horrid nieces of mine—the Saville
girls—they’re always talking scandal.  Still, I should go to Homburg,
dear, I really should.  She is just a little too attractive.  But where
is Agatha?  Oh, there she is:  [LADY AGATHA _and_ MR. HOPPER _enter from
terrace L.U.E._]  Mr. Hopper, I am very, very angry with you.  You have
taken Agatha out on the terrace, and she is so delicate.

HOPPER.  Awfully sorry, Duchess.  We went out for a moment and then got
chatting together.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_C._]  Ah, about dear Australia, I suppose?

HOPPER.  Yes!

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Agatha, darling!  [_Beckons her over_.]

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma!

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Aside_.]  Did Mr. Hopper definitely—

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  And what answer did you give him, dear child?

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Affectionately_.]  My dear one!  You always say
the right thing.  Mr. Hopper!  James!  Agatha has told me everything.
How cleverly you have both kept your secret.

HOPPER.  You don’t mind my taking Agatha off to Australia, then, Duchess?

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Indignantly_.]  To Australia?  Oh, don’t mention
that dreadful vulgar place.

HOPPER.  But she said she’d like to come with me.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  [_Severely_.]  Did you say that, Agatha?

LADY AGATHA.  Yes, mamma.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  Agatha, you say the most silly things possible.  I
think on the whole that Grosvenor Square would be a more healthy place to
reside in.  There are lots of vulgar people live in Grosvenor Square, but
at any rate there are no horrid kangaroos crawling about.  But we’ll talk
about that to-morrow.  James, you can take Agatha down.  You’ll come to
lunch, of course, James.  At half-past one, instead of two.  The Duke
will wish to say a few words to you, I am sure.

HOPPER.  I should like to have a chat with the Duke, Duchess.  He has not
said a single word to me yet.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK.  I think you’ll find he will have a great deal to say
to you to-morrow.  [_Exit_ LADY AGATHA _with_ MR. HOPPER.]  And now
good-night, Margaret.  I’m afraid it’s the old, old story, dear.
Love—well, not love at first sight, but love at the end of the season,
which is so much more satisfactory.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Good-night, Duchess.

[_Exit the_ DUCHESS OF BERWICK _on_ LORD PAISLEY’S _arm_.]

LADY PLYMDALE.  My dear Margaret, what a handsome woman your husband has
been dancing with!  I should be quite jealous if I were you!  Is she a
great friend of yours?

LADY WINDERMERE.  No!

LADY PLYMDALE.  Really?  Good-night, dear.  [_Looks at_ MR. DUMBY _and
exit_.]

DUMBY.  Awful manners young Hopper has!

CECIL GRAHAM.  Ah!  Hopper is one of Nature’s gentlemen, the worst type
of gentleman I know.

DUMBY.  Sensible woman, Lady Windermere.  Lots of wives would have
objected to Mrs. Erlynne coming.  But Lady Windermere has that uncommon
thing called common sense.

CECIL GRAHAM.  And Windermere knows that nothing looks so like innocence
as an indiscretion.

DUMBY.  Yes; dear Windermere is becoming almost modern.  Never thought he
would.  [_Bows to_ LADY WINDERMERE _and exit_.]

LADY JEDBURGH.  Good night, Lady Windermere.  What a fascinating woman
Mrs. Erlynne is!  She is coming to lunch on Thursday, won’t you come too?
I expect the Bishop and dear Lady Merton.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I am afraid I am engaged, Lady Jedburgh.

LADY JEDBURGH.  So sorry.  Come, dear.  [_Exeunt_ LADY JEDBURGH _and_
MISS GRAHAM.]

[_Enter_ MRS. ERLYNNE _and_ LORD WINDERMERE.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Charming ball it has been!  Quite reminds me of old days.
[_Sits on sofa_.]  And I see that there are just as many fools in society
as there used to be.  So pleased to find that nothing has altered!
Except Margaret.  She’s grown quite pretty.  The last time I saw
her—twenty years ago, she was a fright in flannel.  Positive fright, I
assure you.  The dear Duchess! and that sweet Lady Agatha!  Just the type
of girl I like!  Well, really, Windermere, if I am to be the Duchess’s
sister-in-law—

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Sitting L. of her_.]  But are you—?

[_Exit_ MR. CECIL GRAHAM _with rest of guests_.  LADY WINDERMERE
_watches_, _with a look of scorn and pain_, MRS. ERLYNNE _and her
husband_.  _They are unconscious of her presence_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh, yes!  He’s to call to-morrow at twelve o’clock!  He
wanted to propose to-night.  In fact he did.  He kept on proposing.  Poor
Augustus, you know how he repeats himself.  Such a bad habit!  But I told
him I wouldn’t give him an answer till to-morrow.  Of course I am going
to take him.  And I dare say I’ll make him an admirable wife, as wives
go.  And there is a great deal of good in Lord Augustus.  Fortunately it
is all on the surface.  Just where good qualities should be.  Of course
you must help me in this matter.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I am not called on to encourage Lord Augustus, I
suppose?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh, no!  I do the encouraging.  But you will make me a
handsome settlement, Windermere, won’t you?

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Frowning_.]  Is that what you want to talk to me
about to-night?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_With a gesture of impatience_.]  I will not talk of
it here.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Laughing_.]  Then we will talk of it on the terrace.
Even business should have a picturesque background.  Should it not,
Windermere?  With a proper background women can do anything.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Won’t to-morrow do as well?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  No; you see, to-morrow I am going to accept him.  And I
think it would be a good thing if I was able to tell him that I had—well,
what shall I say?—£2000 a year left to me by a third cousin—or a second
husband—or some distant relative of that kind.  It would be an additional
attraction, wouldn’t it?  You have a delightful opportunity now of paying
me a compliment, Windermere.  But you are not very clever at paying
compliments.  I am afraid Margaret doesn’t encourage you in that
excellent habit.  It’s a great mistake on her part.  When men give up
saying what is charming, they give up thinking what is charming.  But
seriously, what do you say to £2000?  £2500, I think.  In modern life
margin is everything.  Windermere, don’t you think the world an intensely
amusing place?  I do!

[_Exit on terrace with_ LORD WINDERMERE.  Music strikes up in ball-room.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  To stay in this house any longer is impossible.
To-night a man who loves me offered me his whole life.  I refused it.  It
was foolish of me.  I will offer him mine now.  I will give him mine.  I
will go to him!  [_Puts on cloak and goes to the door_, _then turns
back_.  _Sits down at table and writes a letter_, _puts it into an
envelope_, _and leaves it on table_.]  Arthur has never understood me.
When he reads this, he will.  He may do as he chooses now with his life.
I have done with mine as I think best, as I think right.  It is he who
has broken the bond of marriage—not I.  I only break its bondage.

                                                                 [_Exit_.]

[_PARKER enters L. and crosses towards the ball-room R._  _Enter_ MRS.
ERLYNNE.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Is Lady Windermere in the ball-room?

PARKER.  Her ladyship has just gone out.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Gone out?  She’s not on the terrace?

PARKER.  No, madam.  Her ladyship has just gone out of the house.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Starts_, _and looks at the servant with a puzzled
expression in her face_.]  Out of the house?

PARKER.  Yes, madam—her ladyship told me she had left a letter for his
lordship on the table.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  A letter for Lord Windermere?

PARKER.  Yes, madam.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Thank you.

[_Exit_ PARKER.  _The music in the ball-room stops_.]  Gone out of her
house!  A letter addressed to her husband!  [_Goes over to bureau and
looks at letter_.  _Takes it up and lays it down again with a shudder of
fear_.]  No, no!  It would be impossible!  Life doesn’t repeat its
tragedies like that!  Oh, why does this horrible fancy come across me?
Why do I remember now the one moment of my life I most wish to forget?
Does life repeat its tragedies?  [_Tears letter open and reads it_, _then
sinks down into a chair with a gesture of anguish_.]  Oh, how terrible!
The same words that twenty years ago I wrote to her father! and how
bitterly I have been punished for it!  No; my punishment, my real
punishment is to-night, is now!  [_Still seated R._]

[_Enter_ LORD WINDERMERE _L.U.E._]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Have you said good-night to my wife?  [_Comes C._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Crushing letter in her hand_.]  Yes.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Where is she?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  She is very tired.  She has gone to bed.  She said she had
a headache.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I must go to her.  You’ll excuse me?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Rising hurriedly_.]  Oh, no!  It’s nothing serious.
She’s only very tired, that is all.  Besides, there are people still in
the supper-room.  She wants you to make her apologies to them.  She said
she didn’t wish to be disturbed.  [_Drops letter_.]  She asked me to tell
you!

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Picks up letter_.]  You have dropped something.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh yes, thank you, that is mine.  [_Puts out her hand to
take it_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Still looking at letter_.]  But it’s my wife’s
handwriting, isn’t it?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Takes the letter quickly_.]  Yes, it’s—an address.  Will
you ask them to call my carriage, please?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Certainly.

                                                     [_Goes L. and Exit_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Thanks!  What can I do?  What can I do?  I feel a passion
awakening within me that I never felt before.  What can it mean?  The
daughter must not be like the mother—that would be terrible.  How can I
save her?  How can I save my child?  A moment may ruin a life.  Who knows
that better than I?  Windermere must be got out of the house; that is
absolutely necessary.  [_Goes L._]  But how shall I do it?  It must be
done somehow.  Ah!

[_Enter_ LORD AUGUSTUS _R.U.E. carrying bouquet_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Dear lady, I am in such suspense!  May I not have an
answer to my request?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Lord Augustus, listen to me.  You are to take Lord
Windermere down to your club at once, and keep him there as long as
possible.  You understand?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  But you said you wished me to keep early hours!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Nervously_.]  Do what I tell you.  Do what I tell you.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  And my reward?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Your reward?  Your reward?  Oh! ask me that to-morrow.
But don’t let Windermere out of your sight to-night.  If you do I will
never forgive you.  I will never speak to you again.  I’ll have nothing
to do with you.  Remember you are to keep Windermere at your club, and
don’t let him come back to-night.

                                                               [_Exit L._]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Well, really, I might be her husband already.  Positively
I might.  [_Follows her in a bewildered manner_.]

                                * * * * *

                                ACT DROP.



THIRD ACT


                                  SCENE

_Lord Darlington’s Rooms_.  _A large sofa is in front of fireplace R._
_At the back of the stage a curtain is drawn across the window_.  _Doors
L. and R._  _Table R. with writing materials.  Table C. with syphons,
glasses, and Tantalus frame_.  _Table L. with cigar and cigarette box.
Lamps lit_.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Standing by the fireplace_.]  Why doesn’t he come?
This waiting is horrible.  He should be here.  Why is he not here, to
wake by passionate words some fire within me?  I am cold—cold as a
loveless thing.  Arthur must have read my letter by this time.  If he
cared for me, he would have come after me, would have taken me back by
force.  But he doesn’t care.  He’s entrammelled by this woman—fascinated
by her—dominated by her.  If a woman wants to hold a man, she has merely
to appeal to what is worst in him.  We make gods of men and they leave
us.  Others make brutes of them and they fawn and are faithful.  How
hideous life is! . . . Oh! it was mad of me to come here, horribly mad.
And yet, which is the worst, I wonder, to be at the mercy of a man who
loves one, or the wife of a man who in one’s own house dishonours one?
What woman knows?  What woman in the whole world?  But will he love me
always, this man to whom I am giving my life?  What do I bring him?  Lips
that have lost the note of joy, eyes that are blinded by tears, chill
hands and icy heart.  I bring him nothing.  I must go back—no; I can’t go
back, my letter has put me in their power—Arthur would not take me back!
That fatal letter!  No!  Lord Darlington leaves England to-morrow.  I
will go with him—I have no choice.  [_Sits down for a few moments_.
_Then starts up and puts on her cloak_.]  No, no!  I will go back, let
Arthur do with me what he pleases.  I can’t wait here.  It has been
madness my coming.  I must go at once.  As for Lord Darlington—Oh! here
he is!  What shall I do?  What can I say to him?  Will he let me go away
at all?  I have heard that men are brutal, horrible . . . Oh!  [_Hides
her face in her hands_.]

[_Enter_ MRS. ERLYNNE _L._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Lady Windermere!  [LADY WINDERMERE _starts and looks up_.
_Then recoils in contempt_.]  Thank Heaven I am in time.  You must go
back to your husband’s house immediately.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Must?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Authoritatively_.]  Yes, you must!  There is not a
second to be lost.  Lord Darlington may return at any moment.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Don’t come near me!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh!  You are on the brink of ruin, you are on the brink of
a hideous precipice.  You must leave this place at once, my carriage is
waiting at the corner of the street.  You must come with me and drive
straight home.

[LADY WINDERMERE _throws off her cloak and flings it on the sofa_.]

What are you doing?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Mrs. Erlynne—if you had not come here, I would have
gone back.  But now that I see you, I feel that nothing in the whole
world would induce me to live under the same roof as Lord Windermere.
You fill me with horror.  There is something about you that stirs the
wildest—rage within me.  And I know why you are here.  My husband sent
you to lure me back that I might serve as a blind to whatever relations
exist between you and him.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh!  You don’t think that—you can’t.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Go back to my husband, Mrs. Erlynne.  He belongs to you
and not to me.  I suppose he is afraid of a scandal.  Men are such
cowards.  They outrage every law of the world, and are afraid of the
world’s tongue.  But he had better prepare himself.  He shall have a
scandal.  He shall have the worst scandal there has been in London for
years.  He shall see his name in every vile paper, mine on every hideous
placard.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  No—no—

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes! he shall.  Had he come himself, I admit I would
have gone back to the life of degradation you and he had prepared for
me—I was going back—but to stay himself at home, and to send you as his
messenger—oh! it was infamous—infamous.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_C._]  Lady Windermere, you wrong me horribly—you wrong
your husband horribly.  He doesn’t know you are here—he thinks you are
safe in your own house.  He thinks you are asleep in your own room.  He
never read the mad letter you wrote to him!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_R._]  Never read it!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  No—he knows nothing about it.

LADY WINDERMERE.  How simple you think me!  [_Going to her_.]  You are
lying to me!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Restraining herself_.]  I am not.  I am telling you the
truth.

LADY WINDERMERE.  If my husband didn’t read my letter, how is it that you
are here?  Who told you I had left the house you were shameless enough to
enter?  Who told you where I had gone to?  My husband told you, and sent
you to decoy me back.  [_Crosses L._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_R.C._]  Your husband has never seen the letter.  I—saw
it, I opened it.  I—read it.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Turning to her_.]  You opened a letter of mine to my
husband?  You wouldn’t dare!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Dare!  Oh! to save you from the abyss into which you are
falling, there is nothing in the world I would not dare, nothing in the
whole world.  Here is the letter.  Your husband has never read it.  He
never shall read it.  [_Going to fireplace_.]  It should never have been
written.  [_Tears it and throws it into the fire_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_With infinite contempt in her voice and look_.]  How
do I know that that was my letter after all?  You seem to think the
commonest device can take me in!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh! why do you disbelieve everything I tell you?  What
object do you think I have in coming here, except to save you from utter
ruin, to save you from the consequence of a hideous mistake?  That letter
that is burnt now _was_ your letter.  I swear it to you!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Slowly_.]  You took good care to burn it before I had
examined it.  I cannot trust you.  You, whose whole life is a lie, could
you speak the truth about anything?  [_Sits down_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Hurriedly_.]  Think as you like about me—say what you
choose against me, but go back, go back to the husband you love.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Sullenly_.]  I do _not_ love him!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You do, and you know that he loves you.

LADY WINDERMERE.  He does not understand what love is.  He understands it
as little as you do—but I see what you want.  It would be a great
advantage for you to get me back.  Dear Heaven! what a life I would have
then!  Living at the mercy of a woman who has neither mercy nor pity in
her, a woman whom it is an infamy to meet, a degradation to know, a vile
woman, a woman who comes between husband and wife!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_With a gesture of despair_.]  Lady Windermere, Lady
Windermere, don’t say such terrible things.  You don’t know how terrible
they are, how terrible and how unjust.  Listen, you must listen!  Only go
back to your husband, and I promise you never to communicate with him
again on any pretext—never to see him—never to have anything to do with
his life or yours.  The money that he gave me, he gave me not through
love, but through hatred, not in worship, but in contempt.  The hold I
have over him—

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Rising_.]  Ah! you admit you have a hold!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes, and I will tell you what it is.  It is his love for
you, Lady Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  You expect me to believe that?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You must believe it!  It is true.  It is his love for you
that has made him submit to—oh! call it what you like, tyranny, threats,
anything you choose.  But it is his love for you.  His desire to spare
you—shame, yes, shame and disgrace.

LADY WINDERMERE.  What do you mean?  You are insolent!  What have I to do
with you?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Humbly_.]  Nothing.  I know it—but I tell you that your
husband loves you—that you may never meet with such love again in your
whole life—that such love you will never meet—and that if you throw it
away, the day may come when you will starve for love and it will not be
given to you, beg for love and it will be denied you—Oh! Arthur loves
you!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Arthur?  And you tell me there is nothing between you?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Lady Windermere, before Heaven your husband is guiltless
of all offence towards you!  And I—I tell you that had it ever occurred
to me that such a monstrous suspicion would have entered your mind, I
would have died rather than have crossed your life or his—oh! died,
gladly died!  [_Moves away to sofa R._]

LADY WINDERMERE.  You talk as if you had a heart.  Women like you have no
hearts.  Heart is not in you.  You are bought and sold.  [_Sits L.C._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Starts_, _with a gesture of pain_.  _Then restrains
herself_, _and comes over to where_ LADY WINDERMERE _is sitting_.  _As
she speaks_, _she stretches out her hands towards her_, _but does not
dare to touch her_.]  Believe what you choose about me.  I am not worth a
moment’s sorrow.  But don’t spoil your beautiful young life on my
account!  You don’t know what may be in store for you, unless you leave
this house at once.  You don’t know what it is to fall into the pit, to
be despised, mocked, abandoned, sneered at—to be an outcast! to find the
door shut against one, to have to creep in by hideous byways, afraid
every moment lest the mask should be stripped from one’s face, and all
the while to hear the laughter, the horrible laughter of the world, a
thing more tragic than all the tears the world has ever shed.  You don’t
know what it is.  One pays for one’s sin, and then one pays again, and
all one’s life one pays.  You must never know that.—As for me, if
suffering be an expiation, then at this moment I have expiated all my
faults, whatever they have been; for to-night you have made a heart in
one who had it not, made it and broken it.—But let that pass.  I may have
wrecked my own life, but I will not let you wreck yours.  You—why, you
are a mere girl, you would be lost.  You haven’t got the kind of brains
that enables a woman to get back.  You have neither the wit nor the
courage.  You couldn’t stand dishonour!  No!  Go back, Lady Windermere,
to the husband who loves you, whom you love.  You have a child, Lady
Windermere.  Go back to that child who even now, in pain or in joy, may
be calling to you.  [LADY WINDERMERE _rises_.]  God gave you that child.
He will require from you that you make his life fine, that you watch over
him.  What answer will you make to God if his life is ruined through you?
Back to your house, Lady Windermere—your husband loves you!  He has never
swerved for a moment from the love he bears you.  But even if he had a
thousand loves, you must stay with your child.  If he was harsh to you,
you must stay with your child.  If he ill-treated you, you must stay with
your child.  If he abandoned you, your place is with your child.

[LADY WINDERMERE _bursts into tears and buries her face in her hands_.]

[_Rushing to her_.]  Lady Windermere!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Holding out her hands to her_, _helplessly_, _as a
child might do_.]  Take me home.  Take me home.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Is about to embrace her_.  _Then restrains herself_.
_There is a look of wonderful joy in her face_.]  Come!  Where is your
cloak?  [_Getting it from sofa_.]  Here.  Put it on.  Come at once!

[_They go to the door_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Stop!  Don’t you hear voices?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  No, no!  There was no one!

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes, there is!  Listen!  Oh! that is my husband’s
voice!  He is coming in!  Save me!  Oh, it’s some plot!  You have sent
for him.

[_Voices outside_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Silence!  I’m here to save you, if I can.  But I fear it
is too late!  There! [_Points to the curtain across the window_.]  The
first chance you have, slip out, if you ever get a chance!

LADY WINDERMERE.  But you?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh! never mind me.  I’ll face them.

[LADY WINDERMERE _hides herself behind the curtain_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Outside_.]  Nonsense, dear Windermere, you must not
leave me!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Lord Augustus!  Then it is I who am lost!  [_Hesitates for
a moment_, then _looks round and sees door R._, _and exits through it_.]

[_Enter_ LORD DARLINGTON, MR. DUMBY, LORD WINDERMERE, LORD AUGUSTUS
LORTON, _and_ MR. CECIL GRAHAM.

DUMBY.  What a nuisance their turning us out of the club at this hour!
It’s only two o’clock.  [_Sinks into a chair_.]  The lively part of the
evening is only just beginning.  [_Yawns and closes his eyes_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  It is very good of you, Lord Darlington, allowing
Augustus to force our company on you, but I’m afraid I can’t stay long.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Really!  I am so sorry!  You’ll take a cigar, won’t
you?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Thanks!  [_Sits down_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_To_ LORD WINDERMERE.]  My dear boy, you must not dream
of going.  I have a great deal to talk to you about, of demmed
importance, too.  [_Sits down with him at L. table_.]

CECIL GRAHAM.  Oh!  We all know what that is!  Tuppy can’t talk about
anything but Mrs. Erlynne.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Well, that is no business of yours, is it, Cecil?

CECIL GRAHAM.  None!  That is why it interests me.  My own business
always bores me to death.  I prefer other people’s.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Have something to drink, you fellows.  Cecil, you’ll
have a whisky and soda?

CECIL GRAHAM.  Thanks.  [_Goes to table with_ LORD DARLINGTON.]  Mrs.
Erlynne looked very handsome to-night, didn’t she?

LORD DARLINGTON.  I am not one of her admirers.

CECIL GRAHAM.  I usen’t to be, but I am now.  Why! she actually made me
introduce her to poor dear Aunt Caroline.  I believe she is going to
lunch there.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_In Purple_.]  No?

CECIL GRAHAM.  She is, really.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Excuse me, you fellows.  I’m going away to-morrow.  And
I have to write a few letters.  [_Goes to writing table and sits down_.]

DUMBY.  Clever woman, Mrs. Erlynne.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Hallo, Dumby!  I thought you were asleep.

DUMBY.  I am, I usually am!

LORD AUGUSTUS.  A very clever woman.  Knows perfectly well what a demmed
fool I am—knows it as well as I do myself.

[CECIL GRAHAM _comes towards him laughing_.]

Ah, you may laugh, my boy, but it is a great thing to come across a woman
who thoroughly understands one.

DUMBY.  It is an awfully dangerous thing.  They always end by marrying
one.

CECIL GRAHAM.  But I thought, Tuppy, you were never going to see her
again!  Yes! you told me so yesterday evening at the club.  You said
you’d heard—

[_Whispering to him_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Oh, she’s explained that.

CECIL GRAHAM.  And the Wiesbaden affair?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  She’s explained that too.

DUMBY.  And her income, Tuppy?  Has she explained that?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_In a very serious voice_.]  She’s going to explain that
to-morrow.

[CECIL GRAHAM _goes back to C. table_.]

DUMBY.  Awfully commercial, women nowadays.  Our grandmothers threw their
caps over the mills, of course, but, by Jove, their granddaughters only
throw their caps over mills that can raise the wind for them.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  You want to make her out a wicked woman.  She is not!

CECIL GRAHAM.  Oh!  Wicked women bother one.  Good women bore one.  That
is the only difference between them.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Puffing a cigar_.]  Mrs. Erlynne has a future before
her.

DUMBY.  Mrs. Erlynne has a past before her.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  I prefer women with a past.  They’re always so demmed
amusing to talk to.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Well, you’ll have lots of topics of conversation with
_her_, Tuppy.  [_Rising and going to him_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  You’re getting annoying, dear-boy; you’re getting demmed
annoying.

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_Puts his hands on his shoulders_.]  Now, Tuppy, you’ve
lost your figure and you’ve lost your character.  Don’t lose your temper;
you have only got one.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  My dear boy, if I wasn’t the most good-natured man in
London—

CECIL GRAHAM.  We’d treat you with more respect, wouldn’t we, Tuppy?
[_Strolls away_.]

DUMBY.  The youth of the present day are quite monstrous.  They have
absolutely no respect for dyed hair.  [LORD AUGUSTUS _looks round
angrily_.]

CECIL GRAHAM.  Mrs. Erlynne has a very great respect for dear Tuppy.

DUMBY.  Then Mrs. Erlynne sets an admirable example to the rest of her
sex.  It is perfectly brutal the way most women nowadays behave to men
who are not their husbands.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Dumby, you are ridiculous, and Cecil, you let your
tongue run away with you.  You must leave Mrs. Erlynne alone.  You don’t
really know anything about her, and you’re always talking scandal against
her.

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_Coming towards him L.C._]  My dear Arthur, I never talk
scandal.  _I_ only talk gossip.

LORD WINDERMERE.  What is the difference between scandal and gossip?

CECIL GRAHAM.  Oh! gossip is charming!  History is merely gossip.  But
scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.  Now, I never moralise.  A
man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is
invariably plain.  There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a
woman as a Nonconformist conscience.  And most women know it, I’m glad to
say.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Just my sentiments, dear boy, just my sentiments.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Sorry to hear it, Tuppy; whenever people agree with me, I
always feel I must be wrong.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  My dear boy, when I was your age—

CECIL GRAHAM.  But you never were, Tuppy, and you never will be.  [_Goes
up C._]  I say, Darlington, let us have some cards.  You’ll play, Arthur,
won’t you?

LORD WINDERMERE.  No, thanks, Cecil.

DUMBY.  [_With a sigh_.]  Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man!  It’s
as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive.

CECIL GRAHAM.  You’ll play, of course, Tuppy?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Pouring himself out a brandy and soda at table_.]
Can’t, dear boy.  Promised Mrs. Erlynne never to play or drink again.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Now, my dear Tuppy, don’t be led astray into the paths of
virtue.  Reformed, you would be perfectly tedious.  That is the worst of
women.  They always want one to be good.  And if we are good, when they
meet us, they don’t love us at all.  They like to find us quite
irretrievably bad, and to leave us quite unattractively good.

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Rising from R. table_, _where he has been writing
letters_.]  They always do find us bad!

DUMBY.  I don’t think we are bad.  I think we are all good, except Tuppy.

LORD DARLINGTON.  No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are
looking at the stars.  [_Sits down at C. table_.]

DUMBY.  We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the
stars?  Upon my word, you are very romantic to-night, Darlington.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Too romantic!  You must be in love.  Who is the girl?

LORD DARLINGTON.  The woman I love is not free, or thinks she isn’t.
[_Glances instinctively at_ LORD WINDERMERE _while he speaks_.]

CECIL GRAHAM.  A married woman, then!  Well, there’s nothing in the world
like the devotion of a married woman.  It’s a thing no married man knows
anything about.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Oh! she doesn’t love me.  She is a good woman.  She is
the only good woman I have ever met in my life.

CECIL GRAHAM.  The only good woman you have ever met in your life?

LORD DARLINGTON.  Yes!

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_Lighting a cigarette_.]  Well, you are a lucky fellow!
Why, I have met hundreds of good women.  I never seem to meet any but
good women.  The world is perfectly packed with good women.  To know them
is a middle-class education.

LORD DARLINGTON.  This woman has purity and innocence.  She has
everything we men have lost.

CECIL GRAHAM.  My dear fellow, what on earth should we men do going about
with purity and innocence?  A carefully thought-out buttonhole is much
more effective.

DUMBY.  She doesn’t really love you then?

LORD DARLINGTON.  No, she does not!

DUMBY.  I congratulate you, my dear fellow.  In this world there are only
two tragedies.  One is not getting what one wants, and the other is
getting it.  The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy!  But
I am interested to hear she does not love you.  How long could you love a
woman who didn’t love you, Cecil?

CECIL GRAHAM.  A woman who didn’t love me?  Oh, all my life!

DUMBY.  So could I.  But it’s so difficult to meet one.

LORD DARLINGTON.  How can you be so conceited, DUMBY?

DUMBY.  I didn’t say it as a matter of conceit.  I said it as a matter of
regret.  I have been wildly, madly adored.  I am sorry I have.  It has
been an immense nuisance.  I should like to be allowed a little time to
myself now and then.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Looking round_.]  Time to educate yourself, I suppose.

DUMBY.  No, time to forget all I have learned.  That is much more
important, dear Tuppy.  [LORD AUGUSTUS _moves uneasily in his chair_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  What cynics you fellows are!

CECIL GRAHAM.  What is a cynic?  [_Sitting on the back of the sofa_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  A man who knows the price of everything and the value
of nothing.

CECIL GRAHAM.  And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who
sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of
any single thing.

LORD DARLINGTON.  You always amuse me, Cecil.  You talk as if you were a
man of experience.

CECIL GRAHAM.  I am.  [_Moves up to front off fireplace_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  You are far too young!

CECIL GRAHAM.  That is a great error.  Experience is a question of
instinct about life.  I have got it.  Tuppy hasn’t.  Experience is the
name Tuppy gives to his mistakes.  That is all.  [LORD AUGUSTUS _looks
round indignantly_.]

DUMBY.  Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_Standing with his back to the fireplace_.]  One
shouldn’t commit any.  [_Sees_ LADY WINDERMERE’S _fan on sofa_.]

DUMBY.  Life would be very dull without them.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Of course you are quite faithful to this woman you are in
love with, Darlington, to this good woman?

LORD DARLINGTON.  Cecil, if on really loves a woman, all other women in
the world become absolutely meaningless to one.  Love changes one—_I_ am
changed.

CECIL GRAHAM.  Dear me!  How very interesting!  Tuppy, I want to talk to
you.  [LORD AUGUSTUS _takes no notice_.]

DUMBY.  It’s no use talking to Tuppy.  You might just as well talk to a
brick wall.

CECIL GRAHAM.  But I like talking to a brick wall—it’s the only thing in
the world that never contradicts me!  Tuppy!

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Well, what is it?  What is it?  [_Rising and going over
to_ CECIL GRAHAM.]

CECIL GRAHAM.  Come over here.  I want you particularly.  [_Aside_.]
Darlington has been moralising and talking about the purity of love, and
that sort of thing, and he has got some woman in his rooms all the time.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  No, really! really!

CECIL GRAHAM.  [_In a low voice_.]  Yes, here is her fan.  [_Points to
the fan_.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Chuckling_.]  By Jove!  By Jove!

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Up by door_.]  I am really off now, Lord Darlington.
I am sorry you are leaving England so soon.  Pray call on us when you
come back!  My wife and I will be charmed to see you!

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Up sage with_ LORD WINDERMERE.]  I am afraid I shall
be away for many years.  Good-night!

CECIL GRAHAM.  Arthur!

LORD WINDERMERE.  What?

CECIL GRAHAM.  I want to speak to you for a moment.  No, do come!

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Putting on his coat_.]  I can’t—I’m off!

CECIL GRAHAM.  It is something very particular.  It will interest you
enormously.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Smiling_.]  It is some of your nonsense, Cecil.

CECIL GRAHAM.  It isn’t!  It isn’t really.

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Going to him_.]  My dear fellow, you mustn’t go yet.  I
have a lot to talk to you about.  And Cecil has something to show you.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Walking over_.]  Well, what is it?

CECIL GRAHAM.  Darlington has got a woman here in his rooms.  Here is her
fan.  Amusing, isn’t it?  [_A pause_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Good God!  [_Seizes the fan_—DUMBY _rises_.]

CECIL GRAHAM.  What is the matter?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Lord Darlington!

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Turning round_.]  Yes!

LORD WINDERMERE.  What is my wife’s fan doing here in your rooms?  Hands
off, Cecil.  Don’t touch me.

LORD DARLINGTON.  Your wife’s fan?

LORD WINDERMERE.  Yes, here it is!

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Walking towards him_.]  I don’t know!

LORD WINDERMERE.  You must know.  I demand an explanation.  Don’t hold
me, you fool.  [_To_ CECIL GRAHAM.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  [_Aside_.]  She is here after all!

LORD WINDERMERE.  Speak, sir!  Why is my wife’s fan here?  Answer me!  By
God!  I’ll search your rooms, and if my wife’s here, I’ll—  [_Moves_.]

LORD DARLINGTON.  You shall not search my rooms.  You have no right to do
so.  I forbid you!

LORD WINDERMERE.  You scoundrel!  I’ll not leave your room till I have
searched every corner of it!  What moves behind that curtain?  [_Rushes
towards the curtain C._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Enters behind R._]  Lord Windermere!

LORD WINDERMERE.  Mrs. Erlynne!

[_Every one starts and turns round_.  LADY WINDERMERE _slips out from
behind the curtain and glides from the room L._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  I am afraid I took your wife’s fan in mistake for my own,
when I was leaving your house to-night.  I am so sorry.  [_Takes fan from
him_.  LORD WINDERMERE _looks at her in contempt_.  LORD DARLINGTON _in
mingled astonishment and anger_.  LORD AUGUSTUS _turns away_.  _The other
men smile at each other_.]

                                ACT DROP.



FOURTH ACT


                         SCENE—Same as in Act I.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Lying on sofa_.]  How can I tell him?  I can’t tell
him.  It would kill me.  I wonder what happened after I escaped from that
horrible room.  Perhaps she told them the true reason of her being there,
and the real meaning of that—fatal fan of mine.  Oh, if he knows—how can
I look him in the face again?  He would never forgive me.  [_Touches
bell_.]  How securely one thinks one lives—out of reach of temptation,
sin, folly.  And then suddenly—Oh!  Life is terrible.  It rules us, we do
not rule it.

[_Enter_ ROSALIE _R._]

ROSALIE.  Did your ladyship ring for me?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes.  Have you found out at what time Lord Windermere
came in last night?

ROSALIE.  His lordship did not come in till five o’clock.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Five o’clock?  He knocked at my door this morning,
didn’t he?

ROSALIE.  Yes, my lady—at half-past nine.  I told him your ladyship was
not awake yet.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Did he say anything?

ROSALIE.  Something about your ladyship’s fan.  I didn’t quite catch what
his lordship said.  Has the fan been lost, my lady?  I can’t find it, and
Parker says it was not left in any of the rooms.  He has looked in all of
them and on the terrace as well.

LADY WINDERMERE.  It doesn’t matter.  Tell Parker not to trouble.  That
will do.

                                                         [_Exit_ ROSALIE.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Rising_.]  She is sure to tell him.  I can fancy a
person doing a wonderful act of self-sacrifice, doing it spontaneously,
recklessly, nobly—and afterwards finding out that it costs too much.  Why
should she hesitate between her ruin and mine? . . . How strange!  I
would have publicly disgraced her in my own house.  She accepts public
disgrace in the house of another to save me. . . . There is a bitter
irony in things, a bitter irony in the way we talk of good and bad women.
. . . Oh, what a lesson! and what a pity that in life we only get our
lessons when they are of no use to us!  For even if she doesn’t tell, I
must.  Oh! the shame of it, the shame of it.  To tell it is to live
through it all again.  Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are
the second.  Words are perhaps the worst.  Words are merciless. . . . Oh!
[_Starts as_ LORD WINDERMERE _enters_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Kisses her_.]  Margaret—how pale you look!

LADY WINDERMERE.  I slept very badly.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Sitting on sofa with her_.]  I am so sorry.  I came
in dreadfully late, and didn’t like to wake you.  You are crying, dear.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes, I am crying, for I have something to tell you,
Arthur.

LORD WINDERMERE.  My dear child, you are not well.  You’ve been doing too
much.  Let us go away to the country.  You’ll be all right at Selby.  The
season is almost over.  There is no use staying on.  Poor darling!  We’ll
go away to-day, if you like.  [_Rises_.]  We can easily catch the 3.40.
I’ll send a wire to Fannen.  [_Crosses and sits down at table to write a
telegram_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes; let us go away to-day.  No; I can’t go to-day,
Arthur.  There is some one I must see before I leave town—some one who
has been kind to me.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Rising and leaning over sofa_.]  Kind to you?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Far more than that.  [_Rises and goes to him_.]  I will
tell you, Arthur, but only love me, love me as you used to love me.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Used to?  You are not thinking of that wretched woman
who came here last night?  [_Coming round and sitting R. of her_.]  You
don’t still imagine—no, you couldn’t.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I don’t.  I know now I was wrong and foolish.

LORD WINDERMERE.  It was very good of you to receive her last night—but
you are never to see her again.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why do you say that?  [_A pause_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Holding her hand_.]  Margaret, I thought Mrs. Erlynne
was a woman more sinned against than sinning, as the phrase goes.  I
thought she wanted to be good, to get back into a place that she had lost
by a moment’s folly, to lead again a decent life.  I believed what she
told me—I was mistaken in her.  She is bad—as bad as a woman can be.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Arthur, Arthur, don’t talk so bitterly about any woman.
I don’t think now that people can be divided into the good and the bad as
though they were two separate races or creations.  What are called good
women may have terrible things in them, mad moods of recklessness,
assertion, jealousy, sin.  Bad women, as they are termed, may have in
them sorrow, repentance, pity, sacrifice.  And I don’t think Mrs. Erlynne
a bad woman—I know she’s not.

LORD WINDERMERE.  My dear child, the woman’s impossible.  No matter what
harm she tries to do us, you must never see her again.  She is
inadmissible anywhere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  But I want to see her.  I want her to come here.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Never!

LADY WINDERMERE.  She came here once as _your_ guest.  She must come now
as _mine_.  That is but fair.

LORD WINDERMERE.  She should never have come here.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Rising_.]  It is too late, Arthur, to say that now.
[_Moves away_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Rising_.]  Margaret, if you knew where Mrs. Erlynne
went last night, after she left this house, you would not sit in the same
room with her.  It was absolutely shameless, the whole thing.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Arthur, I can’t bear it any longer.  I must tell you.
Last night—

[_Enter_ PARKER _with a tray on which lie_ LADY WINDERMERE’S _fan and a
card_.]

PARKER.  Mrs. Erlynne has called to return your ladyship’s fan which she
took away by mistake last night.  Mrs. Erlynne has written a message on
the card.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Oh, ask Mrs. Erlynne to be kind enough to come up.
[_Reads card_.]  Say I shall be very glad to see her.

                                                          [_Exit_ PARKER.]

She wants to see me, Arthur.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Takes card and looks at it_.]  Margaret, I _beg_ you
not to.  Let me see her first, at any rate.  She’s a very dangerous
woman.  She is the most dangerous woman I know.  You don’t realise what
you’re doing.

LADY WINDERMERE.  It is right that I should see her.

LORD WINDERMERE.  My child, you may be on the brink of a great sorrow.
Don’t go to meet it.  It is absolutely necessary that I should see her
before you do.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Why should it be necessary?

[_Enter_ PARKER.]

PARKER.  Mrs. Erlynne.

[_Enter_ MRS. ERLYNNE.]

                                                          [_Exit_ PARKER.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  How do you do, Lady Windermere?  [_To_ LORD WINDERMERE.]
How do you do?  Do you know, Lady Windermere, I am so sorry about your
fan.  I can’t imagine how I made such a silly mistake.  Most stupid of
me.  And as I was driving in your direction, I thought I would take the
opportunity of returning your property in person with many apologies for
my carelessness, and of bidding you good-bye.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Good-bye?  [_Moves towards sofa with_ MRS. ERLYNNE _and
sits down beside her_.]  Are you going away, then, Mrs. Erlynne?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes; I am going to live abroad again.  The English climate
doesn’t suit me.  My—heart is affected here, and that I don’t like.  I
prefer living in the south.  London is too full of fogs and—and serious
people, Lord Windermere.  Whether the fogs produce the serious people or
whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don’t know, but the whole
thing rather gets on my nerves, and so I’m leaving this afternoon by the
Club Train.

LADY WINDERMERE.  This afternoon?  But I wanted so much to come and see
you.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  How kind of you!  But I am afraid I have to go.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Shall I never see you again, Mrs. Erlynne?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  I am afraid not.  Our lives lie too far apart.  But there
is a little thing I would like you to do for me.  I want a photograph of
you, Lady Windermere—would you give me one?  You don’t know how gratified
I should be.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Oh, with pleasure.  There is one on that table.  I’ll
show it to you. [_Goes across to the table_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Coming up to_ MRS. ERLYNNE _and speaking in a low
voice_.]  It is monstrous your intruding yourself here after your conduct
last night.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_With an amused smile_.]  My dear Windermere, manners
before morals!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Returning_.]  I’m afraid it is very flattering—I am
not so pretty as that.  [_Showing photograph_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You are much prettier.  But haven’t you got one of
yourself with your little boy?

LADY WINDERMERE.  I have.  Would you prefer one of those?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I’ll go and get it for you, if you’ll excuse me for a
moment.  I have one upstairs.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  So sorry, Lady Windermere, to give you so much trouble.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Moves to door R._]  No trouble at all, Mrs. Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Thanks so much.

[_Exit_ LADY WINDERMERE _R._]  You seem rather out of temper this
morning, Windermere.  Why should you be?  Margaret and I get on
charmingly together.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I can’t bear to see you with her.  Besides, you have
not told me the truth, Mrs. Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  I have not told _her_ the truth, you mean.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Standing C._]  I sometimes wish you had.  I should
have been spared then the misery, the anxiety, the annoyance of the last
six months.  But rather than my wife should know—that the mother whom she
was taught to consider as dead, the mother whom she has mourned as dead,
is living—a divorced woman, going about under an assumed name, a bad
woman preying upon life, as I know you now to be—rather than that, I was
ready to supply you with money to pay bill after bill, extravagance after
extravagance, to risk what occurred yesterday, the first quarrel I have
ever had with my wife.  You don’t understand what that means to me.  How
could you?  But I tell you that the only bitter words that ever came from
those sweet lips of hers were on your account, and I hate to see you next
her.  You sully the innocence that is in her. [_Moves L.C._]  And then I
used to think that with all your faults you were frank and honest.  You
are not.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Why do you say that?

LORD WINDERMERE.  You made me get you an invitation to my wife’s ball.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  For my daughter’s ball—yes.

LORD WINDERMERE.  You came, and within an hour of your leaving the house
you are found in a man’s rooms—you are disgraced before every one.
[_Goes up stage C._]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Turning round on her_.]  Therefore I have a right to
look upon you as what you are—a worthless, vicious woman.  I have the
right to tell you never to enter this house, never to attempt to come
near my wife—

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Coldly_.]  My daughter, you mean.

LORD WINDERMERE.  You have no right to claim her as your daughter.  You
left her, abandoned her when she was but a child in the cradle, abandoned
her for your lover, who abandoned you in turn.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Rising_.]  Do you count that to his credit, Lord
Windermere—or to mine?

LORD WINDERMERE.  To his, now that I know you.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Take care—you had better be careful.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Oh, I am not going to mince words for you.  I know you
thoroughly.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Looks steadily at him_.]  I question that.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I _do_ know you.  For twenty years of your life you
lived without your child, without a thought of your child.  One day you
read in the papers that she had married a rich man.  You saw your hideous
chance.  You knew that to spare her the ignominy of learning that a woman
like you was her mother, I would endure anything.  You began your
blackmailing.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Shrugging her shoulders_.]  Don’t use ugly words,
Windermere.  They are vulgar.  I saw my chance, it is true, and took it.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Yes, you took it—and spoiled it all last night by being
found out.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_With a strange smile_.]  You are quite right, I spoiled
it all last night.

LORD WINDERMERE.  And as for your blunder in taking my wife’s fan from
here and then leaving it about in Darlington’s rooms, it is unpardonable.
I can’t bear the sight of it now.  I shall never let my wife use it
again.  The thing is soiled for me.  You should have kept it and not
brought it back.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  I think I shall keep it.  [_Goes up_.]  It’s extremely
pretty.  [_Takes up fan_.]  I shall ask Margaret to give it to me.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I hope my wife will give it you.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Oh, I’m sure she will have no objection.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I wish that at the same time she would give you a
miniature she kisses every night before she prays—It’s the miniature of a
young innocent-looking girl with beautiful _dark_ hair.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Ah, yes, I remember.  How long ago that seems!  [_Goes to
sofa and sits down_.]  It was done before I was married.  Dark hair and
an innocent expression were the fashion then, Windermere!  [_A pause_.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  What do you mean by coming here this morning?  What is
your object?  [_Crossing L.C. and sitting_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_With a note of irony in her voice_.]  To bid good-bye to
my dear daughter, of course.  [LORD WINDERMERE _bites his under lip in
anger_.  MRS. ERLYNNE _looks at him_, _and her voice and manner become
serious_.  _In her accents at she talks there is a note of deep tragedy_.
_For a moment she reveals herself_.]  Oh, don’t imagine I am going to
have a pathetic scene with her, weep on her neck and tell her who I am,
and all that kind of thing.  I have no ambition to play the part of a
mother.  Only once in my life have I known a mother’s feelings.  That was
last night.  They were terrible—they made me suffer—they made me suffer
too much.  For twenty years, as you say, I have lived childless,—I want
to live childless still.  [_Hiding her feelings with a trivial laugh_.]
Besides, my dear Windermere, how on earth could I pose as a mother with a
grown-up daughter?  Margaret is twenty-one, and I have never admitted
that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most.  Twenty-nine when
there are pink shades, thirty when there are not.  So you see what
difficulties it would involve.  No, as far as I am concerned, let your
wife cherish the memory of this dead, stainless mother.  Why should I
interfere with her illusions?  I find it hard enough to keep my own.  I
lost one illusion last night.  I thought I had no heart.  I find I have,
and a heart doesn’t suit me, Windermere.  Somehow it doesn’t go with
modern dress.  It makes one look old.  [_Takes up hand-mirror from table
and looks into it_.]  And it spoils one’s career at critical moments.

LORD WINDERMERE.  You fill me with horror—with absolute horror.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Rising_.]  I suppose, Windermere, you would like me to
retire into a convent, or become a hospital nurse, or something of that
kind, as people do in silly modern novels.  That is stupid of you,
Arthur; in real life we don’t do such things—not as long as we have any
good looks left, at any rate.  No—what consoles one nowadays is not
repentance, but pleasure.  Repentance is quite out of date.  And besides,
if a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker, otherwise
no one believes in her.  And nothing in the world would induce me to do
that.  No; I am going to pass entirely out of your two lives.  My coming
into them has been a mistake—I discovered that last night.

LORD WINDERMERE.  A fatal mistake.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Smiling_.]  Almost fatal.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I am sorry now I did not tell my wife the whole thing
at once.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  I regret my bad actions.  You regret your good ones—that
is the difference between us.

LORD WINDERMERE.  I don’t trust you.  I _will_ tell my wife.  It’s better
for her to know, and from me.  It will cause her infinite pain—it will
humiliate her terribly, but it’s right that she should know.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You propose to tell her?

LORD WINDERMERE.  I am going to tell her.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Going up to him_.]  If you do, I will make my name so
infamous that it will mar every moment of her life.  It will ruin her,
and make her wretched.  If you dare to tell her, there is no depth of
degradation I will not sink to, no pit of shame I will not enter.  You
shall not tell her—I forbid you.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Why?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_After a pause_.]  If I said to you that I cared for her,
perhaps loved her even—you would sneer at me, wouldn’t you?

LORD WINDERMERE.  I should feel it was not true.  A mother’s love means
devotion, unselfishness, sacrifice.  What could you know of such things?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You are right.  What could I know of such things?  Don’t
let us talk any more about it—as for telling my daughter who I am, that I
do not allow.  It is my secret, it is not yours.  If I make up my mind to
tell her, and I think I will, I shall tell her before I leave the
house—if not, I shall never tell her.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Angrily_.]  Then let me beg of you to leave our house
at once.  I will make your excuses to Margaret.

[_Enter_ LADY WINDERMERE _R._  _She goes over to_ MRS. ERLYNNE _with the
photograph in her hand_.  LORD WINDERMERE _moves to back of sofa_, _and
anxiously watches_ MRS. ERLYNNE _as the scene progresses_.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  I am so sorry, Mrs. Erlynne, to have kept you waiting.
I couldn’t find the photograph anywhere.  At last I discovered it in my
husband’s dressing-room—he had stolen it.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Takes the photograph from her and looks at it_.]  I am
not surprised—it is charming.  [_Goes over to sofa with_ LADY WINDERMERE,
_and sits down beside her_.  _Looks again at the photograph_.]  And so
that is your little boy!  What is he called?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Gerard, after my dear father.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Laying the photograph down_.]  Really?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes.  If it had been a girl, I would have called it
after my mother.  My mother had the same name as myself, Margaret.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  My name is Margaret too.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Indeed!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes.  [_Pause_.]  You are devoted to your mother’s memory,
Lady Windermere, your husband tells me.

LADY WINDERMERE.  We all have ideals in life.  At least we all should
have.  Mine is my mother.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Ideals are dangerous things.  Realities are better.  They
wound, but they’re better.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Shaking her head_.]  If I lost my ideals, I should
lose everything.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Everything?

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes.  [_Pause_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Did your father often speak to you of your mother?

LADY WINDERMERE.  No, it gave him too much pain.  He told me how my
mother had died a few months after I was born.  His eyes filled with
tears as he spoke.  Then he begged me never to mention her name to him
again.  It made him suffer even to hear it.  My father—my father really
died of a broken heart.  His was the most ruined life know.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Rising_.]  I am afraid I must go now, Lady Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Rising_.]  Oh no, don’t.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  I think I had better.  My carriage must have come back by
this time.  I sent it to Lady Jedburgh’s with a note.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Arthur, would you mind seeing if Mrs. Erlynne’s
carriage has come back?

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Pray don’t trouble, Lord Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Yes, Arthur, do go, please.

[LORD WINDERMERE _hesitated for a moment and looks at_ MRS. ERLYNNE.
_She remains quite impassive_.  _He leaves the room_.]

[_To_ MRS. ERLYNNE.]  Oh!  What am I to say to you?  You saved me last
night?  [_Goes towards her_.]

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Hush—don’t speak of it.

LADY WINDERMERE.  I must speak of it.  I can’t let you think that I am
going to accept this sacrifice.  I am not.  It is too great.  I am going
to tell my husband everything.  It is my duty.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  It is not your duty—at least you have duties to others
besides him.  You say you owe me something?

LADY WINDERMERE.  I owe you everything.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Then pay your debt by silence.  That is the only way in
which it can be paid.  Don’t spoil the one good thing I have done in my
life by telling it to any one.  Promise me that what passed last night
will remain a secret between us.  You must not bring misery into your
husband’s life.  Why spoil his love?  You must not spoil it.  Love is
easily killed.  Oh! how easily love is killed.  Pledge me your word, Lady
Windermere, that you will never tell him.  I insist upon it.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_With bowed head_.]  It is your will, not mine.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Yes, it is my will.  And never forget your child—I like to
think of you as a mother.  I like you to think of yourself as one.

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Looking up_.]  I always will now.  Only once in my
life I have forgotten my own mother—that was last night.  Oh, if I had
remembered her I should not have been so foolish, so wicked.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_With a slight shudder_.]  Hush, last night is quite
over.

[_Enter_ LORD WINDERMERE.]

LORD WINDERMERE.  Your carriage has not come back yet, Mrs. Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  It makes no matter.  I’ll take a hansom.  There is nothing
in the world so respectable as a good Shrewsbury and Talbot.  And now,
dear Lady Windermere, I am afraid it is really good-bye.  [_Moves up C._]
Oh, I remember.  You’ll think me absurd, but do you know I’ve taken a
great fancy to this fan that I was silly enough to run away with last
night from your ball.  Now, I wonder would you give it to me?  Lord
Windermere says you may.  I know it is his present.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Oh, certainly, if it will give you any pleasure.  But
it has my name on it.  It has ‘Margaret’ on it.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  But we have the same Christian name.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Oh, I forgot.  Of course, do have it.  What a wonderful
chance our names being the same!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Quite wonderful.  Thanks—it will always remind me of you.
[_Shakes hands with her_.]

[_Enter_ PARKER.]

PARKER.  Lord Augustus Lorton.  Mrs. Erlynne’s carriage has come.

[_Enter_ LORD AUGUSTUS.]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Good morning, dear boy.  Good morning, Lady Windermere.
[_Sees_ MRS. ERLYNNE.]  Mrs. Erlynne!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  How do you do, Lord Augustus?  Are you quite well this
morning?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Coldly_.]  Quite well, thank you, Mrs. Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  You don’t look at all well, Lord Augustus.  You stop up
too late—it is so bad for you.  You really should take more care of
yourself.  Good-bye, Lord Windermere. [_Goes towards door with a bow to_
LORD AUGUSTUS.  _Suddenly smiles and looks back at him_.]  Lord Augustus!
Won’t you see me to my carriage?  You might carry the fan.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Allow me!

MRS. ERLYNNE.  No; I want Lord Augustus.  I have a special message for
the dear Duchess.  Won’t you carry the fan, Lord Augustus?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  If you really desire it, Mrs. Erlynne.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  [_Laughing_.]  Of course I do.  You’ll carry it so
gracefully.  You would carry off anything gracefully, dear Lord Augustus.

[_When she reaches the door she looks back for a moment at_ LADY
WINDERMERE.  _Their eyes meet_.  _Then she turns_, _and exit C. followed
by_ LORD AUGUSTUS.]

LADY WINDERMERE.  You will never speak against Mrs. Erlynne again,
Arthur, will you?

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Gravely_.]  She is better than one thought her.

LADY WINDERMERE.  She is better than I am.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Smiling as he strokes her hair_.]  Child, you and she
belong to different worlds.  Into your world evil has never entered.

LADY WINDERMERE.  Don’t say that, Arthur.  There is the same world for
all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in
hand.  To shut one’s eyes to half of life that one may live securely is
as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a
land of pit and precipice.

LORD WINDERMERE.  [_Moves down with her_.]  Darling, why do you say that?

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Sits on sofa_.]  Because I, who had shut my eyes to
life, came to the brink.  And one who had separated us—

LORD WINDERMERE.  We were never separated.

LADY WINDERMERE.  We never must be again.  O Arthur, don’t love me less,
and I will trust you more.  I will trust you absolutely.  Let us go to
Selby.  In the Rose Garden at Selby the roses are white and red.

[_Enter_ LORD AUGUSTUS _C._]

LORD AUGUSTUS.  Arthur, she has explained everything!

[LADY WINDERMERE _looks horribly frightened at this_.  LORD WINDERMERE
_starts_.  LORD AUGUSTUS _takes_ WINDERMERE _by the arm and brings him to
front of stage_.  _He talks rapidly and in a low voice_.  LADY WINDERMERE
_stands watching them in terror_.]  My dear fellow, she has explained
every demmed thing.  We all wronged her immensely.  It was entirely for
my sake she went to Darlington’s rooms.  Called first at the Club—fact
is, wanted to put me out of suspense—and being told I had gone
on—followed—naturally frightened when she heard a lot of us coming
in—retired to another room—I assure you, most gratifying to me, the whole
thing.  We all behaved brutally to her.  She is just the woman for me.
Suits me down to the ground.  All the conditions she makes are that we
live entirely out of England.  A very good thing too.  Demmed clubs,
demmed climate, demmed cooks, demmed everything.  Sick of it all!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Frightened_.]  Has Mrs. Erlynne—?

LORD AUGUSTUS.  [_Advancing towards her with a low bow_.]  Yes, Lady
Windermere—  Mrs. Erlynne has done me the honour of accepting my hand.

LORD WINDERMERE.  Well, you are certainly marrying a very clever woman!

LADY WINDERMERE.  [_Taking her husband’s hand_.]  Ah, you’re marrying a
very good woman!

                                * * * * *

                                 CURTAIN





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