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.
[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.]