must join my wife.
LADY PLYMDALE. Oh, you mustn’t dream of such a thing. It’s most dangerous nowadays for a husband to pay any attention to his wife in public. It always makes people think that he beats her when they’re alone. The world has grown so suspicious of anything that looks like a happy married life. But I’ll tell you what it is at supper. [Moves towards door of ball-room.]
LORD WINDERMERE. [C.] Margaret! I must speak to you.
LADY WINDERMERE. Will you hold my fan for me, Lord Darlington? Thanks. [Comes down to him.]
LORD WINDERMERE. [Crossing to her.] Margaret, what you said before dinner was, of course, impossible?
LADY WINDERMERE. That woman is not coming here to-night!
LORD WINDERMERE. [R.C.] Mrs. Erlynne is coming here, and if you in any way annoy or wound her, you will bring shame and sorrow on us both. Remember that! Ah, Margaret! only trust me! A wife should trust her husband!
LADY WINDERMERE. [C.] London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognise them. They look so thoroughly unhappy. I am not going to be one of them. [Moves up.] Lord Darlington, will you give me back my fan, please? Thanks. . . . A useful thing a fan, isn’t it? . . . I want a friend to-night, Lord Darlington: I didn’t know I would want one so soon.
LORD DARLINGTON. Lady Windermere! I knew the time would come some day; but why to-night?
LORD WINDERMERE. I will tell her. I must. It would be terrible if there were any scene. Margaret . . .
PARKER. Mrs. Erlynne!
[LORD WINDERMERE starts. MRS. ERLYNNE enters, very beautifully dressed and very dignified. LADY WINDERMERE clutches at her fan, then lets it drop on the door. She bows coldly to MRS. ERLYNNE, who bows to her sweetly in turn, and sails into the room.]
LORD DARLINGTON. You have dropped your fan, Lady Windermere. [Picks it up and hands it to her.]
MRS. ERLYNNE. [C.] How do you do, again, Lord Windermere? How charming your sweet wife looks! Quite a picture!
LORD WINDERMERE. [In a low voice.] It was terribly rash of you to come!
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Smiling.] The wisest thing I ever did in my life. And, by the way, you must pay me a good deal of attention this evening. I am afraid of the women. You must introduce me to some of them. The men I can always manage. How do you do, Lord Augustus? You have quite neglected me lately. I have not seen you since yesterday. I am afraid you’re faithless. Every one told me so.
LORD AUGUSTUS. [R.] Now really, Mrs. Erlynne, allow me to explain.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [R.C.] No, dear Lord Augustus, you can’t explain anything. It is your chief charm.
LORD AUGUSTUS. Ah! if you find charms in me, Mrs. Erlynne -
[They converse together. LORD WINDERMERE moves uneasily about the room watching MRS. ERLYNNE.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [To LADY WINDERMERE.] How pale you are!
LADY WINDERMERE. Cowards are always pale!
LORD DARLINGTON. You look faint. Come out on the terrace.
LADY WINDERMERE. Yes. [To PARKER.] Parker, send my cloak out.
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Crossing to her.] Lady Windermere, how beautifully your terrace is illuminated. Reminds me of Prince Doria’s at Rome.
[LADY WINDERMERE bows coldly, and goes off with LORD DARLINGTON.]
Oh, how do you do, Mr. Graham? Isn’t that your aunt, Lady Jedburgh? I should so much like to know her.
CECIL GRAHAM. [After a moment’s hesitation and embarrassment.] Oh, certainly, if you wish it. Aunt Caroline, allow me to introduce Mrs. Erlynne.
MRS. ERLYNNE. So pleased to meet you, Lady Jedburgh. [Sits beside her on the sofa.] Your nephew and I are great friends. I am so much interested in his political career. I think he’s sure to be a wonderful success. He thinks like a Tory, and talks like a Radical, and that’s so important nowadays. He’s such a brilliant talker, too. But we all know from whom he inherits that. Lord Allandale was saying to me only yesterday, in the Park, that Mr. Graham talks almost as well as his aunt.
LADY JEDBURGH. [R.] Most kind of you to say these charming things to me! [MRS. ERLYNNE smiles, and continues conversation.]
DUMBY. [To CECIL GRAHAM.] Did you introduce Mrs. Erlynne to Lady Jedburgh?
CECIL GRAHAM. Had to, my dear fellow. Couldn’t help it! That woman can make one do anything she wants. How, I don’t know.
DUMBY. Hope to goodness she won’t speak to me! [Saunters towards LADY PLYMDALE.]
MRS. ERLYNNE. [C. To LADY JEDBURGH.] On Thursday? With great pleasure. [Rises, and speaks to LORD WINDERMERE, laughing.] What a bore it is to have to be civil to these old dowagers! But they always insist on it!
LADY PLYMDALE. [To MR. DUMBY.] Who is that well-dressed woman talking to Windermere?
DUMBY. Haven’t got the slightest idea! Looks like an édition de luxe of a wicked French novel, meant specially for the English market.
MRS. ERLYNNE. So that is poor Dumby with Lady Plymdale? I hear she is frightfully jealous of him. He doesn’t seem anxious to speak to me to-night. I suppose he is afraid of her. Those straw-coloured women have dreadful tempers. Do you know, I think I’ll dance with you first, Windermere. [LORD WINDERMERE bits his lip and frowns.] It will make Lord Augustus so jealous! Lord Augustus! [LORD AUGUSTUS comes down.] Lord Windermere insists on my dancing with him