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!