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.