LADY WINDERMERE. Put it there, Parker. That will do. [Wipes her hands with her pocket-handkerchief, goes to tea-table, and sits down.] Won’t you come over, Lord Darlington?
[Exit PARKER C.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [Takes chair and goes across L.C.] I am quite miserable, Lady Windermere. You must tell me what I did. [Sits down at table L.]
LADY WINDERMERE. Well, you kept paying me elaborate compliments the whole evening.
LORD DARLINGTON. [Smiling.] Ah, nowadays we are all of us so hard up, that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They’re the only things we can pay.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Shaking her head.] No, I am talking very seriously. You mustn’t laugh, I am quite serious. I don’t like compliments, and I don’t see why a man should think he is pleasing a woman enormously when he says to her a whole heap of things that he doesn’t mean.
LORD DARLINGTON. Ah, but I did mean them. [Takes tea which she offers him.]
LADY WINDERMERE. [Gravely.] I hope not. I should be sorry to have to quarrel with you, Lord Darlington. I like you very much, you know that. But I shouldn’t like you at all if I thought you were what most other men are. Believe me, you are better than most other men, and I sometimes think you pretend to be worse.
LORD DARLINGTON. We all have our little vanities, Lady Windermere.
LADY WINDERMERE. Why do you make that your special one? [Still seated at table L.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [Still seated L.C.] Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad. Besides, there is this to be said. If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
LADY WINDERMERE. Don’t you want the world to take you seriously then, Lord Darlington?
LORD DARLINGTON. No, not the world. Who are the people the world takes seriously? All the dull people one can think of, from the Bishops down to the bores. I should like you to take me very seriously, Lady Windermere, you more than any one else in life.
LADY WINDERMERE. Why - why me?
LORD DARLINGTON. [After a slight hesitation.] Because I think we might be great friends. Let us be great friends. You may want a friend some day.
LADY WINDERMERE. Why do you say that?
LORD DARLINGTON. Oh! - we all want friends at times.
LADY WINDERMERE. I think we’re very good friends already, Lord Darlington. We can always remain so as long as you don’t -
LORD DARLINGTON. Don’t what?
LADY WINDERMERE. Don’t spoil it by saying extravagant silly things to me. You think I am a Puritan, I suppose? Well, I have something of the Puritan in me. I was brought up like that. I am glad of it. My mother died when I was a mere child. I lived always with Lady Julia, my father’s elder sister, you know. She was stern to me, but she taught me what the world is forgetting, the difference that there is between what is right and what is wrong. She allowed of no compromise. I allow of none.