to CECIL GRAHAM.]
CECIL GRAHAM. Come over here. I want you particularly. [Aside.] Darlington has been moralising and talking about the purity of love, and that sort of thing, and he has got some woman in his rooms all the time.
LORD AUGUSTUS. No, really! really!
CECIL GRAHAM. [In a low voice.] Yes, here is her fan. [Points to the fan.]
LORD AUGUSTUS. [Chuckling.] By Jove! By Jove!
LORD WINDERMERE. [Up by door.] I am really off now, Lord Darlington. I am sorry you are leaving England so soon. Pray call on us when you come back! My wife and I will be charmed to see you!
LORD DARLINGTON. [Up sage with LORD WINDERMERE.] I am afraid I shall be away for many years. Good-night!
CECIL GRAHAM. Arthur!
LORD WINDERMERE. What?
CECIL GRAHAM. I want to speak to you for a moment. No, do come!
LORD WINDERMERE. [Putting on his coat.] I can’t - I’m off!
CECIL GRAHAM. It is something very particular. It will interest you enormously.
LORD WINDERMERE. [Smiling.] It is some of your nonsense, Cecil.
CECIL GRAHAM. It isn’t! It isn’t really.
LORD AUGUSTUS. [Going to him.] My dear fellow, you mustn’t go yet. I have a lot to talk to you about. And Cecil has something to show you.
LORD WINDERMERE. [Walking over.] Well, what is it?
CECIL GRAHAM. Darlington has got a woman here in his rooms. Here is her fan. Amusing, isn’t it? [A pause.]
LORD WINDERMERE. Good God! [Seizes the fan - DUMBY rises.]
CECIL GRAHAM. What is the matter?
LORD WINDERMERE. Lord Darlington!
LORD DARLINGTON. [Turning round.] Yes!
LORD WINDERMERE. What is my wife’s fan doing here in your rooms? Hands off, Cecil. Don’t touch me.
LORD DARLINGTON. Your wife’s fan?
LORD WINDERMERE. Yes, here it is!
LORD DARLINGTON. [Walking towards him.] I don’t know!
LORD WINDERMERE. You must know. I demand an explanation. Don’t hold me, you fool. [To CECIL GRAHAM.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [Aside.] She is here after all!
LORD WINDERMERE. Speak, sir! Why is my wife’s fan here? Answer me! By God! I’ll search your rooms, and if my wife’s here, I’ll - [Moves.]
LORD DARLINGTON. You shall not search my rooms. You have no right to do so. I forbid you!
LORD WINDERMERE. You scoundrel! I’ll not leave your room till I have searched every corner of it! What moves behind that curtain? [Rushes towards the curtain C.]
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Enters behind R.] Lord Windermere!
LORD WINDERMERE. Mrs. Erlynne!
[Every one starts and turns round. LADY WINDERMERE slips out from behind the curtain and glides from the room L.]
MRS. ERLYNNE. I am afraid I took your wife’s fan in mistake for my own, when I was leaving your house to-night. I am so sorry. [Takes fan from him. LORD WINDERMERE looks at her in contempt. LORD DARLINGTON in mingled astonishment and anger. LORD AUGUSTUS turns away. The other men smile at each other.]
SCENE - Same as in Act I.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Lying on sofa.] How can I tell him? I can’t tell him. It would kill me. I wonder what happened after I escaped from that horrible room. Perhaps she told them the true reason of her being there, and the real meaning of that - fatal fan of mine. Oh, if he knows - how can I look him in the face again? He would never forgive me. [Touches bell.] How securely one thinks one lives - out of reach of temptation, sin, folly. And then suddenly - Oh! Life is terrible. It rules us, we do not rule it.
[Enter ROSALIE R.]
ROSALIE. Did your ladyship ring for me?
LADY WINDERMERE. Yes. Have you found out at what time Lord Windermere came in last night?
ROSALIE. His lordship did not come in till five o’clock.
LADY WINDERMERE. Five o’clock? He knocked at my door this morning, didn’t he?
ROSALIE. Yes, my lady - at half-past nine. I told him your ladyship was not awake yet.
LADY WINDERMERE. Did he say anything?
ROSALIE. Something about your ladyship’s fan. I didn’t quite catch what his lordship said. Has the fan been lost, my lady? I can’t find it, and Parker says it was not left in any of the rooms. He has looked in all of them and on the terrace as well.
LADY WINDERMERE. It doesn’t matter. Tell Parker not to trouble. That will do.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Rising.] She is sure to tell him. I can fancy a person doing a wonderful act of self-sacrifice, doing it spontaneously, recklessly, nobly - and afterwards finding out that it costs too much. Why should she hesitate between her ruin and mine? . . . How strange! I would have publicly disgraced her in my own house. She accepts public disgrace in the house of another to save me. . . . There is a bitter irony in things, a bitter irony in the way we talk of good and bad women. . . . Oh, what a lesson! and what a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us! For even if she doesn’t tell, I must. Oh! the shame of it, the shame of it. To tell it is to live through it all again. Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are the second. Words are perhaps the worst. Words are merciless. . . Oh! [Starts as LORD WINDERMERE enters.]
LORD WINDERMERE. [Kisses her.] Margaret - how pale you look!