first, and, as it’s his own house, I can’t well refuse. You know I would much sooner dance with you.
LORD AUGUSTUS. [With a low bow.] I wish I could think so, Mrs. Erlynne.
MRS ERLYNNE. You know it far too well. I can fancy a person dancing through life with you and finding it charming.
LORD AUGUSTUS. [Placing his hand on his white waistcoat.] Oh, thank you, thank you. You are the most adorable of all ladies!
MRS. ERLYNNE. What a nice speech! So simple and so sincere! Just the sort of speech I like. Well, you shall hold my bouquet. [Goes towards ball-room on LORD WINDERMERE’S arm.] Ah, Mr. Dumby, how are you? I am so sorry I have been out the last three times you have called. Come and lunch on Friday.
DUMBY. [With perfect nonchalance.] Delighted!
[LADY PLYMDALE glares with indignation at MR. DUMBY. LORD AUGUSTUS follows MRS. ERLYNNE and LORD WINDERMERE into the ball-room holding bouquet]
LADY PLYMDALE. [To MR. DUMBY.] What an absolute brute you are! I never can believe a word you say! Why did you tell me you didn’t know her? What do you mean by calling on her three times running? You are not to go to lunch there; of course you understand that?
DUMBY. My dear Laura, I wouldn’t dream of going!
LADY PLYMDALE. You haven’t told me her name yet! Who is she?
DUMBY. [Coughs slightly and smooths his hair.] She’s a Mrs. Erlynne.
LADY PLYMDALE. That woman!
DUMBY. Yes; that is what every one calls her.
LADY PLYMDALE. How very interesting! How intensely interesting! I really must have a good stare at her. [Goes to door of ball-room and looks in.] I have heard the most shocking things about her. They say she is ruining poor Windermere. And Lady Windermere, who goes in for being so proper, invites her! How extremely amusing! It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing. You are to lunch there on Friday!
LADY PLYMDALE. Because I want you to take my husband with you. He has been so attentive lately, that he has become a perfect nuisance. Now, this woman is just the thing for him. He’ll dance attendance upon her as long as she lets him, and won’t bother me. I assure you, women of that kind are most useful. They form the basis of other people’s marriages.
DUMBY. What a mystery you are!
LADY PLYMDALE. [Looking at him.] I wish you were!
DUMBY. I am - to myself. I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly; but I don’t see any chance of it just at present.
[They pass into the ball-room, and LADY WINDERMERE and LORD DARLINGTON enter from the terrace.]
LADY WINDERMERE. Yes. Her coming here is monstrous, unbearable. I know now what you meant to-day at tea-time. Why didn’t you tell me right out? You should have!
LORD DARLINGTON. I couldn’t! A man can’t tell these things about another man! But if I had known he was going to make you ask her here to-night, I think I would have told you. That insult, at any rate, you would have been spared.
LADY WINDERMERE. I did not ask her. He insisted on her coming - against my entreaties - against my commands. Oh! the house is tainted for me! I feel that every woman here sneers at me as she dances by with my husband. What have I done to deserve this? I gave him all my life. He took it - used it - spoiled it! I am degraded in my own eyes; and I lack courage - I am a coward! [Sits down on sofa.]
LORD DARLINGTON. If I know you at all, I know that you can’t live with a man who treats you like this! What sort of life would you have with him? You would feel that he was lying to you every moment of the day. You would feel that the look in his eyes was false, his voice false, his touch false, his passion false. He would come to you when he was weary of others; you would have to comfort him. He would come to you when he was devoted to others; you would have to charm him. You would have to be to him the mask of his real life, the cloak to hide his secret.
LADY WINDERMERE. You are right - you are terribly right. But where am I to turn? You said you would be my friend, Lord Darlington. - Tell me, what am I to do? Be my friend now.
LORD DARLINGTON. Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship. I love you -
LADY WINDERMERE. No, no! [Rises.]
LORD DARLINGTON. Yes, I love you! You are more to me than anything in the whole world. What does your husband give you? Nothing. Whatever is in him he gives to this wretched woman, whom he has thrust into your society, into your home, to shame you before every one. I offer you my life -
LADY WINDERMERE. Lord Darlington!
LORD DARLINGTON. My life - my whole life. Take it, and do with it what you will. . . . I love you - love you as I have never loved any living thing. From the moment I met you I loved you, loved you blindly, adoringly, madly! You did not know it then - you know it now! Leave this house to-night.