Lord Darlington. [Still seated.] Do you think then—of course I am only putting an imaginary instance—do you think that in the case of a young married couple, say about two years married, if the husband suddenly becomes the intimate friend of a woman of—well, more than doubtful character—is always calling upon her, lunching with her, and probably paying her bills—do you think that the wife should not console herself?
Lady Windermere. [Frowning.] Console herself?
Lord Darlington. Yes, I think she should—I think she has the right.
Lady Windermere. Because the husband is vile—should the wife be vile also?
Lord Darlington. Vileness is a terrible word, Lady Windermere.
Lady Windermere. It is a terrible thing, Lord Darlington.
Lord Darlington. Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in this world. Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such extraordinary importance. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. I take the side of the charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help belonging to them.
Lady Windermere. Now, Lord Darlington. [Rising and crossing R., front of him.] Don’t stir, I am merely going to finish my flowers. [Goes to table R.C.]
Lord Darlington. [Rising and moving chair.] And I must say I think you are very hard on modern life, Lady Windermere. Of course there is much against it, I admit. Most women, for instance, nowadays, are rather mercenary.
Lady Windermere. Don’t talk about such people.
Lord Darlington. Well then, setting aside mercenary people, who, of course, are dreadful, do you think seriously that women who have committed what the world calls a fault should never be forgiven?
Lady Windermere. [Standing at table.] I think they should never be forgiven.
Lord Darlington. And men? Do you think that there should be the same laws for men as there are for women?
Lady Windermere. Certainly!
Lord Darlington. I think life too complex a thing to be settled by these hard and fast rules.
Lady Windermere. If we had ‘these hard and fast rules,’ we should find life much more simple.
Lord Darlington. You allow of no exceptions?
Lady Windermere. None!
Lord Darlington. Ah, what a fascinating Puritan you are, Lady Windermere!
Lady Windermere. The adjective was unnecessary, Lord Darlington.
Lord Darlington. I couldn’t help it. I can resist everything except temptation.
Lady Windermere. You have the modern affectation of weakness.
Lord Darlington. [Looking at her.] It’s only an affectation, Lady Windermere.
[Enter Parker C.]
Parker. The Duchess of Berwick and Lady Agatha Carlisle.
[Enter the Duchess of Berwick and Lady Agatha Carlisle C.]
[Exit Parker C.]
Duchess of Berwick. [Coming down C., and shaking hands.] Dear Margaret, I am so pleased to see you. You remember Agatha, don’t you? [Crossing L.C.] How do you do, Lord Darlington? I won’t let you know my daughter, you are far too wicked.
Lord Darlington. Don’t say that, Duchess. As a wicked man I am a complete failure. Why, there are lots of people who say I have never really done anything wrong in the whole course of my life. Of course they only say it behind my back.
Duchess of Berwick. Isn’t he dreadful? Agatha, this is Lord Darlington. Mind you don’t believe a word he says. [Lord Darlington crosses R.C.] No, no tea, thank you, dear. [Crosses and sits on sofa.] We have just had tea at Lady Markby’s. Such bad tea, too. It was quite undrinkable. I wasn’t at all surprised. Her own son-in-law supplies it. Agatha is looking forward so much to your ball to-night, dear Margaret.
Lady Windermere. [Seated L.C.] Oh, you mustn’t think it is going to be a ball, Duchess. It is only a dance in honour of my birthday. A small and early.
Lord Darlington. [Standing L.C.] Very small, very early, and very select, Duchess.
Duchess of Berwick. [On sofa L.] Of course it’s going to be select. But we know that, dear Margaret, about your house. It is really one of the few houses in London where I can take Agatha, and where I feel perfectly secure about dear Berwick. I don’t know what society is coming to. The most dreadful people seem to go everywhere. They certainly come to my parties—the men get quite furious if one doesn’t ask them. Really, some one should make a stand against it.
Lady Windermere. I will, Duchess. I will have no one in my house about whom there is any scandal.
Lord Darlington. [R.C.] Oh, don’t say that, Lady Windermere. I should never be admitted! [Sitting.]
Duchess of Berwick. Oh, men don’t matter. With women it is different. We’re good. Some of us are, at least. But we are positively getting elbowed into the corner. Our husbands would really forget our existence if we didn’t nag at them from time to time, just to remind them that we have a perfect legal right to do so.
Lord Darlington. It’s a curious thing, Duchess, about the game of marriage—a game, by the way, that is going out of fashion—the wives hold all the honours, and invariably lose the odd trick.
Duchess of Berwick. The odd trick? Is that the husband, Lord Darlington?
Lord Darlington. It would be rather a good name for the modern husband.
Duchess of Berwick. Dear Lord Darlington, how thoroughly depraved you are!
Lady Windermere. Lord Darlington is trivial.
Lord Darlington. Ah, don’t say that, Lady Windermere.
Lady Windermere. Why do you talk so trivially about life, then?
Lord Darlington. Because I think that life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. [Moves up C.]
Duchess of Berwick. What does he mean? Do, as a concession to my poor wits, Lord Darlington, just explain to me what you really mean.
Lord Darlington. [Coming down back of table.] I think I had better not, Duchess. Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out. Good-bye!