and an innocent expression were the fashion then, Windermere! [A pause.]
LORD WINDERMERE. What do you mean by coming here this morning? What is your object? [Crossing L.C. and sitting.]
MRS. ERLYNNE. [With a note of irony in her voice.] To bid good-bye to my dear daughter, of course. [LORD WINDERMERE bites his under lip in anger. MRS. ERLYNNE looks at him, and her voice and manner become serious. In her accents at she talks there is a note of deep tragedy. For a moment she reveals herself.] Oh, don’t imagine I am going to have a pathetic scene with her, weep on her neck and tell her who I am, and all that kind of thing. I have no ambition to play the part of a mother. Only once in my life like I known a mother’s feelings. That was last night. They were terrible - they made me suffer - they made me suffer too much. For twenty years, as you say, I have lived childless, - I want to live childless still. [Hiding her feelings with a trivial laugh.] Besides, my dear Windermere, how on earth could I pose as a mother with a grown-up daughter? Margaret is twenty-one, and I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most. Twenty-nine when there are pink shades, thirty when there are not. So you see what difficulties it would involve. No, as far as I am concerned, let your wife cherish the memory of this dead, stainless mother. Why should I interfere with her illusions? I find it hard enough to keep my own. I lost one illusion last night. I thought I had no heart. I find I have, and a heart doesn’t suit me, Windermere. Somehow it doesn’t go with modern dress. It makes one look old. [Takes up hand-mirror from table and looks into it.] And it spoils one’s career at critical moments.
LORD WINDERMERE. You fill me with horror - with absolute horror.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Rising.] I suppose, Windermere, you would like me to retire into a convent, or become a hospital nurse, or something of that kind, as people do in silly modern novels. That is stupid of you, Arthur; in real life we don’t do such things - not as long as we have any good looks left, at any rate. No - what consoles one nowadays is not repentance, but pleasure. Repentance is quite out of date. And besides, if a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker, otherwise no one believes in her. And nothing in the world would induce me to do that. No; I am going to pass entirely out of your two lives. My coming into them has been a mistake - I discovered that last night.
LORD WINDERMERE. A fatal mistake.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Smiling.] Almost fatal.
LORD WINDERMERE. I am sorry now I did not tell my wife the whole thing at once.
MRS. ERLYNNE. I regret my bad actions. You regret your good ones - that is the difference between us.
LORD WINDERMERE. I don’t trust you. I will tell my wife. It’s better for her to know, and from me. It will cause her infinite pain - it will humiliate her terribly, but it’s right that she should know.
MRS. ERLYNNE. You propose to tell her?
LORD WINDERMERE. I am going to tell her.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Going up to him.] If you do, I will make my name so infamous that it will mar every moment of her life. It will ruin her, and make her wretched. If you dare to tell her, there is no depth of degradation I will not sink to, no pit of shame I will not enter. You shall not tell her - I forbid you.
LORD WINDERMERE. Why?
MRS. ERLYNNE. [After a pause.] If I said to you that I cared for her, perhaps loved her even - you would sneer at me, wouldn’t you?
LORD WINDERMERE. I should feel it was not true. A mother’s love means devotion, unselfishness, sacrifice. What could you know of such things?
MRS. ERLYNNE. You are right. What could I know of such things? Don’t let us talk any more about it - as for telling my daughter who I am, that I do not allow. It is my secret, it is not yours. If I make up my mind to tell her, and I think I will, I shall tell her before I leave the house - if not, I shall never tell her.
LORD WINDERMERE. [Angrily.] Then let me beg of you to leave our house at once. I will make your excuses to Margaret.
[Enter LADY WINDERMERE R. She goes over to MRS. ERLYNNE with the photograph in her hand. LORD WINDERMERE moves to back of sofa, and anxiously watches MRS. ERLYNNE as the scene progresses.]
LADY WINDERMERE. I am so sorry, Mrs. Erlynne, to have kept you waiting. I couldn’t find the photograph anywhere. At last I discovered it in my husband’s dressing-room - he had stolen it.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Takes the photograph from her and looks at it.] I am not surprised - it is charming. [Goes over to sofa with LADY WINDERMERE, and sits down beside her. Looks again at the photograph.] And so that is your little boy! What is he called?
LADY WINDERMERE. Gerard, after my dear father.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Laying the photograph down.] Really?
LADY WINDERMERE. Yes. If it had been a girl, I would have called it after my mother. My mother had the same name as