fails. Sees paper knife on bureau, and with it cuts cover from book. Begins to start at the first page.] ‘Mrs. Erlynne - £600 - Mrs. Erlynne - £700 - Mrs. Erlynne - £400.’ Oh! it is true! It is true! How horrible! [Throws book on floor.] [Enter LORD WINDERMERE C.]
LORD WINDERMERE. Well, dear, has the fan been sent home yet? [Going R.C. Sees book.] Margaret, you have cut open my bank book. You have no right to do such a thing!
LADY WINDERMERE. You think it wrong that you are found out, don’t you?
LORD WINDERMERE. I think it wrong that a wife should spy on her husband.
LADY WINDERMERE. I did not spy on you. I never knew of this woman’s existence till half an hour ago. Some one who pitied me was kind enough to tell me what every one in London knows already - your daily visits to Curzon Street, your mad infatuation, the monstrous sums of money you squander on this infamous woman! [Crossing L.]
LORD WINDERMERE. Margaret! don’t talk like that of Mrs. Erlynne, you don’t know how unjust it is!
LADY WINDERMERE. [Turning to him.] You are very jealous of Mrs. Erlynne’s honour. I wish you had been as jealous of mine.
LORD WINDERMERE. Your honour is untouched, Margaret. You don’t think for a moment that - [Puts book back into desk.]
LADY WINDERMERE. I think that you spend your money strangely. That is all. Oh, don’t imagine I mind about the money. As far as I am concerned, you may squander everything we have. But what I do mind is that you who have loved me, you who have taught me to love you, should pass from the love that is given to the love that is bought. Oh, it’s horrible! [Sits on sofa.] And it is I who feel degraded! you don’t feel anything. I feel stained, utterly stained. You can’t realise how hideous the last six months seems to me now - every kiss you have given me is tainted in my memory.
LORD WINDERMERE. [Crossing to her.] Don’t say that, Margaret. I never loved any one in the whole world but you.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Rises.] Who is this woman, then? Why do you take a house for her?
LORD WINDERMERE. I did not take a house for her.
LADY WINDERMERE. You gave her the money to do it, which is the same thing.
LORD WINDERMERE. Margaret, as far as I have known Mrs. Erlynne -
LADY WINDERMERE. Is there a Mr. Erlynne - or is he a myth?
LORD WINDERMERE. Her husband died many years ago. She is alone in the world.
LADY WINDERMERE. No relations? [A pause.]
LORD WINDERMERE. None.
LADY WINDERMERE. Rather curious, isn’t it? [L.]
LORD WINDERMERE. [L.C.] Margaret, I was saying to you - and I beg you to listen to me - that as far as I have known Mrs. Erlynne, she has conducted herself well. If years ago -
LADY WINDERMERE. Oh! [Crossing R.C.] I don’t want details about her life!
LORD WINDERMERE. [C.] I am not going to give you any details about her life. I tell you simply this - Mrs. Erlynne was once honoured, loved, respected. She was well born, she had position - she lost everything - threw it away, if you like. That makes it all the more bitter. Misfortunes one can endure - they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults - ah! - there is the sting of life. It was twenty years ago, too. She was little more than a girl then. She had been a wife for even less time than you have.
LADY WINDERMERE. I am not interested in her - and - you should not mention this woman and me in the same breath. It is an error of taste. [Sitting R. at desk.]
LORD WINDERMERE. Margaret, you could save this woman. She wants to get back into society, and she wants you to help her. [Crossing to her.]
LADY WINDERMERE. Me!
LORD WINDERMERE. Yes, you.
LADY WINDERMERE. How impertinent of her! [A pause.]
LORD WINDERMERE. Margaret, I came to ask you a great favour, and I still ask it of you, though you have discovered what I had intended you should never have known that I have given Mrs. Erlynne a large sum of money. I want you to send her an invitation for our party to-night. [Standing L. of her.]
LADY WINDERMERE. You are mad! [Rises.]
LORD WINDERMERE. I entreat you. People may chatter about her, do chatter about her, of course, but they don’t know anything definite against her. She has been to several houses - not to houses where you would go, I admit, but still to houses where women who are in what is called Society nowadays do go. That does not content her. She wants you to receive her once.
LADY WINDERMERE. As a triumph for her, I suppose?
LORD WINDERMERE. No; but because she knows that you are a good woman - and that if she comes here once she will have a chance of a happier, a surer life than she has had. She will make no further effort to know you. Won’t you help a woman who is trying to get back?
LADY WINDERMERE. No! If a woman really repents, she never wishes to return to the society that has made or seen her ruin.
LORD WINDERMERE. I beg of you.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Crossing to door R.] I am going to dress for dinner, and don’t mention the subject again this evening.