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.
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.]