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!