- 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