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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’

By Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

(From Act III.)

[Voices outside.]
MRS. ERLYNNE—Silence! I am here to save you if I can. But I fear it is too late! There![Points to the curtain across the window.]The first chance you have, slip out, if you ever get a chance!

Lady Windermere—But you!

Mrs. E.—Oh! never mind me. I’ll face them.

[Lady W. hides herself behind the curtain.]

Lord Augustus[Outside]—Nonsense, dear Windermere, you must not leave me!

Mrs. E.—Lord Augustus! Then it is I who am lost!

[Hesitates for a moment, then looks round and sees door R., and exit through it.]
[Enter Lord Darlington, Mr. Dumby, Lord Windermere, Lord Augustus Lorton, and Mr. Cecil Graham.]

Dumby—What a nuisance their turning us out of the club at this hour! It’s only two o’clock[Sinks into a chair.]The lively part of the evening is only just beginning.[Yawns and closes his eyes.]

Lord W.—It is very good of you, Lord Darlington, allowing Augustus to force our company on you, but I’m afraid I can’t stay long.

Lord D.—Really! I am so sorry! You’ll take a cigar, won’t you?

Lord W.—Thanks![Sits down.]

Lord A.[To Lord W.]—My dear boy, you must not dream of going. I have a great deal to talk to you about, of demmed importance, too.[Sits down with him at L. table.]

Cecil G.—Oh! we all know what that is! Tuppy can’t talk about anything but Mrs. Erlynne!

Lord W.—Well, that is no business of yours, is it, Cecil?

Cecil G.—None! That is why it interests me. My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people’s.

Lord D.—Have something to drink, you fellows. Cecil, you’ll have a whisky and soda?

Cecil G.—Thanks.[Goes to the table with Lord D.]Mrs. Erlynne looked very handsome to-night, didn’t she?

Lord D.—I am not one of her admirers.

Cecil G.—I usen’t to be, but I am now. Why! she actually made me introduce her to poor dear Aunt Caroline. I believe she is going to lunch there.

Lord D.[In surprise]—No?

Cecil G.—She is, really.

Lord D.—Excuse me, you fellows. I’m going away to-morrow. And I have to write a few letters.[Goes to writing table and sits down.]

Dumby—Clever woman, Mrs. Erlynne.

Cecil G.—Hallo, Dumby! I thought you were asleep.

Dumby—I am, I usually am!

Lord A.—A very clever woman. Knows perfectly well what a demmed fool I am—knows it as well as I do myself.[Cecil G. comes towards him laughing.]Ah! you may laugh, my boy, but it is a great thing to come across a woman who thoroughly understands one.

Dumby—It is an awfully dangerous thing. They always end by marrying one.

Cecil G.—But I thought, Tuppy, you were never going to see her again. Yes! you told me so yesterday evening at the club. You said you’d heard—[Whispering to him.]

Lord A.—Oh, she’s explained that.

Cecil G.—And the Wiesbaden affair?

Lord A.—She’s explained that, too.

Dumby—And her income, Tuppy? Has she explained that?

Lord A.[In a very serious voice]—She’s going to explain that to-morrow.

[Cecil goes back to C. table.]

Dumby—Awfully commercial, women now-a-days. Our grandmothers threw their caps over the mills, of course, but, by Jove, their granddaughters only throw their caps over mills that can raise the wind for them.

Lord A.—You want to make her out a wicked woman. She is not!

Cecil G.—Oh! Wicked women bother one. Good women bore one. That is the only difference between them.

Lord A.[Puffing a cigar]—Mrs. Erlynne has a future before her.

Dumby—Mrs. Erlynne has a past before her.

Lord A.—I prefer women with a past. They’re always so demmed amusing to talk to.

Cecil G.—Well, you’ll have lots of topics of conversation with her, Tuppy.[Rising and going to him.]

Lord A.—You’re getting annoying, dear boy; you’re getting demmed annoying.

Cecil G.[Puts his hands on his shoulders]—Now, Tuppy, you’ve lost your figure and you’ve lost your character. Don’t lose your temper; you have only got one.

Lord A.—My dear boy, if I wasn’t the most good-natured man in London——

Cecil G.—We’d treat you with more respect, wouldn’t we, Tuppy?[Strolls away.]

Dumby—The youth of the present day are quite monstrous. They have absolutely no respect for dyed hair.

[Lord A. looks round angrily.]

Cecil G.—Mrs. Erlynne has a very great respect for dear Tuppy.

Dumby—Then Mrs. Erlynne sets an admirable example to the rest of her sex. It is perfectly brutal the way most women now-a-days behave to men who are not their husbands.

Lord W.—Dumby, you are ridiculous, and Cecil, you let your tongue run away with you. You must leave Mrs. Erlynne alone. You don’t really know anything about her, and you’re always talking scandal against her.

Cecil G.[Coming towards him, L. C.]—My dear Arthur, I never talk scandal. I only talk gossip.

Lord W.—What is the difference between scandal and gossip?

Cecil G.—Oh! gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. Now, I never moralize. A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I’m glad to say.

Lord A.—Just my sentiments, dear boy, just my sentiments.

Cecil G.—Sorry to hear it, Tuppy; whenever people agree with me, I always feel that I must be wrong.

Lord A.—My dear boy, when I was your age——

Cecil G.—But you never were, Tuppy, and you never will be.[Goes up C.]I say, Darlington, let us have some cards. You’ll play, Arthur, won’t you?

Lord W.—No, thanks, Cecil.

Dumby[With a sigh]—Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man! It’s as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.

Cecil G.—You’ll play, of course, Tuppy?

Lord A.[Pouring himself out a brandy and soda at table]—Can’t, dear boy. Promised Mrs. Erlynne never to play or drink again.

Cecil G.—Now, my dear Tuppy, don’t be led astray into the paths of virtue. Reformed, you would be perfectly tedious. That is the worst of women. They always want one to be good. And if we are good when they meet us, they don’t love us at all. They like to find us quite irretrievably bad, and to leave us quite unattractively good.

Lord D.[Rising from R. table, where he has been writing letters]—They always do find us bad!

Dumby—I don’t think we are bad. I think we are all good, except Tuppy.

Lord D.—No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.[Sits down at C. table.]

Dumby—We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars? Upon my word, you are very romantic to-night, Darlington.

Cecil G.—Too romantic! You must be in love. Who is the girl?

Lord D.—The woman I love is not free, or thinks she isn’t.

[Glances instinctively at Lord W. while he speaks.]

Cecil G.—A married woman, then! Well, there’s nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman. It’s a thing no married man knows anything about.

Lord D.—Oh! she doesn’t love me. She is a good woman. She is the only good woman I have ever met in my life.

Cecil G.—The only good woman you have ever met in your life?

Lord D.—Yes!

Cecil G.[Lighting a cigarette]—Well, you are a lucky fellow! Why, I have met hundreds of good women. I never seem to meet any but good women. The world is perfectly packed with good women. To know them is a middle-class education.

Lord D.—This woman has purity and innocence. She has everything we men have lost.

Cecil G.—My dear fellow, what on earth should we men do going about with purity and innocence? A carefully thought-out buttonhole is much more effective.

Dumby—She doesn’t really love you then?

Lord D.—No, she does not!

Dumby—I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst, the last is a real tragedy! But I am interested to hear she does not love you. How long could you love a woman who didn’t love you, Cecil!

Cecil G.—A woman who didn’t love me? Oh, all my life!

Dumby—So could I. But it’s so difficult to meet one.

Lord D.—How can you be so conceited, Dumby?

Dumby—I didn’t say it as a matter of conceit. I said it as a matter of regret. I have been wildly, madly adored. I am sorry I have. It has been an immense nuisance. I should like to be allowed a little time to myself, now and then.

Lord A.[Looking round]—Time to educate yourself, I suppose.

Dumby—No, time to forget all I have learned. That is much more important, dear Tuppy.

[Lord A. moves uneasily in his chair.]

Lord D.—What cynics you fellows are!

Cecil G.—What is a cynic?[Sitting on the back of the sofa.]

Lord D.—A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

Cecil G.—And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market-price of any single thing.

Lord D.—You always amuse me, Cecil. You talk as if you were a man of experience.

Cecil G.—I am.[Moves up to front of fireplace.]

Lord D.—You are far too young!

Cecil G.—That is a great error. Experience is a question of instinct about life. I have got it. Tuppy hasn’t. Experience is the name Tuppy gives to his mistakes. That is all.

[Lord A. looks round indignantly.]

Dumby—Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes

Cecil G.[Standing with his back to fireplace]—One shouldn’t commit any.[Sees Lady W.’s fan on sofa.]

Dumby—Life would be very dull without them.

Cecil G.—Of course you are quite faithful to this woman you are in love with, Darlington, to this good woman?

Lord D.—Cecil, if one really loves a woman, all other women in the world become absolutely meaningless to one. Love changes one—I am changed.

Cecil G.—Dear me! How very interesting! Tuppy, I want to talk to you.

[Lord A. takes no notice.]

Dumby—It’s no use talking to Tuppy. You might just as well talk to a brick wall.

Cecil G.—But I like talking to a brick wall—it’s the only thing in the world that never contradicts me! Tuppy!

Lord A.—Well, what is it? What is it?[Rising and going over to Cecil G.]

Cecil G.—Come over here. I want you particularly.[Aside.]Darlington has been moralizing 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 A.—No, really! really!

Cecil G.[In a low voice]—Yes, here is her fan.[Points to the fan.]

Lord A.[Chuckling]—By Jove! By Jove!

Lord W.[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 D.[Up stage with Lord W.]—I am afraid I shall be away for many years. Good-night!

Cecil G.—Arthur!

Lord W.—What?

Cecil G.—I want to speak to you for a moment. No, do come!

Lord W.[Putting on his coat]—I can’t—I’m off!

Cecil G.—It is something very particular. It will interest you enormously.

Lord W.[Smiling]—It is some of your nonsense, Cecil.

Cecil G.It isn’t! It isn’t really!

Lord A.[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 W.[Walking over]—Well, what is it?

Cecil G.—Darlington has got a woman here in his rooms. Here is her fan. Amusing, isn’t it?[A pause.]

Lord W.—Good God![Seizes the fan—Dumby rises.]

Cecil G.—What is the matter?

Lord W.—Lord Darlington!

Lord D.[Turning round]—Yes!

Lord W.—What is my wife’s fan doing here in your rooms? Hands off, Cecil. Don’t touch me!

Lord D.—Your wife’s fan?

Lord W.—Yes, here it is!

Lord D.[Walking towards him]—I don’t know!

Lord W.—You must know. I demand an explanation. Don’t hold me, you fool![To Cecil G.]

Lord D.[Aside]—She is here after all!

Lord W.—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 D.—You shall not search my rooms. You have no right to do so. I forbid you!

Lord W.—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. E.[Enters behind R.]—Lord Windermere!

Lord W.—Mrs. Erlynne!

[Every one starts and turns round.Lady W. slips out from behind the curtain and glides from the room L.]

Mrs. E.—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 W. looks at her in contempt; Lord D. in mingled astonishment and anger.Lord A. turns away.The other men smile at each other.]