Roebuck Ramsden is in his study, opening the morning letters. The study, handsomely and solidly furnished, proclaims the man of means. Not a speck of dust is visible: it is clear that there are at least two housemaids and a parlormaid downstairs, and a housekeeper upstairs who does not let them spare elbow-grease. Even the top of Roebuck’s head is polished: on a sunshiny day he could heliograph his orders to distant camps by merely nodding. In no other respect, however, does he suggest the military man. It is in active civil life that men get his broad air of importance, his dignified expectation of deference, his determinate mouth disarmed and refined since the hour of his success by the withdrawal of opposition and the concession of comfort and precedence and power. He is more than a highly respectable man: he is marked out as a president of highly respectable men, a chairman among directors, an alderman among councillors, a mayor among aldermen. Four tufts of iron-grey hair, which will soon be as white as isinglass, and are in other respects not at all unlike it, grow in two symmetrical pairs above his ears and at the angles of his spreading jaws. He wears a black frock coat, a white waistcoat (it is bright spring weather), and trousers, neither black nor perceptibly blue, of one of those indefinitely mixed hues which the modern clothier has produced to harmonize with the religions of respectable men. He has not been out of doors yet today; so he still wears his slippers, his boots being ready for him on the hearthrug. Surmising that he has no valet, and seeing that he has no secretary with a shorthand notebook and a typewriter, one meditates on how little our great burgess domesticity has been disturbed by new fashions and methods, or by the enterprise of the railway and hotel companies which sell you a Saturday to Monday of life at Folkestone as a real gentleman for two guineas, first class fares both ways included.
How old is Roebuck? The question is important on the threshold of a drama of ideas; for under such circumstances everything depends on whether his adolescence belonged to the sixties or to the eighties. He was born, as a matter of fact, in 1839, and was a Unitarian and Free Trader from his boyhood, and an Evolutionist from the publication of the Origin of Species. Consequently he has always classed himself as an advanced thinker and fearlessly outspoken reformer.
Sitting at his writing table, he has on his right the windows giving on Portland Place. Through these, as through a proscenium, the curious spectator may contemplate his profile as well as the blinds will permit. On his left is the inner wall, with a stately bookcase, and the door not quite in the middle, but somewhat further from him. Against the wall opposite him are two busts on pillars: one, to his left, of John Bright; the other, to his right, of Mr Herbert Spencer. Between them hang an engraved portrait of Richard Cobden; enlarged photographs of Martineau, Huxley, and George Eliot; autotypes of allegories by Mr G.F. Watts (for Roebuck believed in the fine arts with all the earnestness of a man who does not understand them), and an impression of Dupont’s engraving of Delaroche’s Beaux Artes hemicycle, representing the great men of all ages. On the wall behind him, above the mantelshelf, is a family portrait of impenetrable obscurity.
A chair stands near the writing table for the convenience of business visitors. Two other chairs are against the wall between the busts.
A parlormaid enters with a visitor’s card. Roebuck takes it, and nods, pleased. Evidently a welcome caller.
Ramsden. Show him up.
The parlormaid goes out and returns with the visitor.
The Maid. Mr Robinson.
Mr Robinson is really an uncommonly nice looking young fellow. He must, one thinks, be the jeune premier; for it is not in reason to suppose that a second such attractive male figure should appear in one story. The slim shapely frame, the elegant suit of new mourning, the small head and regular features, the pretty little moustache, the frank clear eyes, the wholesome bloom and the youthful complexion, the well brushed glossy hair, not curly, but of fine texture and good dark color, the arch of good nature in the eyebrows, the erect forehead and neatly pointed chin, all announce the man who will love and suffer later on. And that he will not do so without sympathy is guaranteed by an engaging sincerity and eager modest serviceableness which stamp him as a man of amiable nature. The moment he appears, Ramsden’s face expands into fatherly liking and welcome, an expression which drops into one of decorous grief as the young man approaches him with sorrow in his face as well as in his black clothes. Ramsden seems to know the nature of the bereavement. As the visitor advances silently to the writing table, the old man rises and shakes his hand across it without a word: a long, affectionate shake which tells the story of a recent sorrow common to both.
Ramsden. [concluding the handshake and cheering up] Well, well, Octavius, it’s the common lot. We must all face it someday. Sit down.
Octavius takes the visitor’s chair. Ramsden replaces himself in his own.
Octavius. Yes: we must face it, Mr Ramsden. But I owed him a great deal. He did everything for me that my father could have done if he had lived.
Ramsden. He had no son of his own, you see.
Octavius. But he had daughters; and yet he was as good to my sister as to me. And his death was so sudden! I always intended to thank him — to let him know that I had not taken all his care of me as a matter of course, as any boy takes his father’s care. But I waited for an opportunity and now he is dead — dropped without a moment’s warning. He will never know what I felt. [He takes out his handkerchief and cries unaffectedly].
Ramsden. How do we know that, Octavius? He may know it: we cannot tell. Come! Don’t grieve. [Octavius masters himself and puts up his handkerchief]. That’s right. Now let me tell you something to console you. The last time I saw him — it was in this very room — he said to me: “Tavy is a generous lad and the soul of honor; and when I see how little consideration other men get from their sons, I realize how much better than a son he’s been to me.” There! Doesn’t that do you good?
Octavius. Mr Ramsden: he used to say to me that he had met only one man in the world who was the soul of honor, and that was Roebuck Ramsden.
Ramsden. Oh, that was his partiality: we were very old friends, you know. But there was something else he used to say about you. I wonder whether I ought to tell you or not!
Octavius. You know best.
Ramsden. It was something about his daughter.
Octavius. [eagerly] About Ann! Oh, do tell me that, Mr Ramsden.
Ramsden. Well, he said he was glad, after all, you were not his son, because he thought that someday Annie and you — [Octavius blushes vividly]. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have told you. But he was in earnest.
Octavius. Oh, if only I thought I had a chance! You know, Mr Ramsden, I don’t care about money or about what people call position; and I can’t bring myself to take an interest in the business of struggling for them. Well, Ann has a most exquisite nature; but she is so accustomed to be in the thick of that sort of thing that she thinks a man’s character incomplete if he is not ambitious. She knows that if she married me she would have to reason herself out of being ashamed of me for not being a big success of some kind.
Ramsden. [Getting up and planting himself with his back to the fireplace] Nonsense, my boy, nonsense! You’re too modest. What does she know about the real value of men at her age? [More seriously] Besides, she’s a wonderfully dutiful girl. Her father’s wish would be sacred to her. Do you know that since she grew up to years of discretion, I don’t believe she has ever once given her own wish as a reason for doing anything or not doing it. It’s always “Father wishes me to,” or “Mother wouldn’t like it.” It’s really almost a fault in her. I have often told her she must learn to think for herself.
Octavius. [shaking his head] I couldn’t ask her to marry me because her father wished it, Mr Ramsden.
Ramsden. Well, perhaps not. No: of course not. I see that. No: you certainly couldn’t. But when you win her on your own merits, it will be a great happiness to her to fulfil her father’s desire as well as her own. Eh? Come! you’ll ask her, won’t you?
Octavius. [with sad gaiety] At all events I promise you I shall never ask anyone else.
Ramsden. Oh, you shan’t need to. She’ll accept you, my boy — although [here he suddenly becomes very serious indeed] you have one great drawback.
Octavius. [anxiously] What drawback is that, Mr Ramsden? I should rather say which of my many drawbacks?
Ramsden. I’ll tell you, Octavius. [He takes from the table a book bound in red cloth]. I have in my hand a copy of the most infamous, the most scandalous, the most mischievous, the most blackguardly book that ever escaped burning at the hands of the common hangman. I have not read it: I would not soil my mind with such filth; but I have read what the papers say of it. The title is quite enough for me. [He reads it]. The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion by John Tanner, M.I.R.C., Member of the Idle Rich Class.
Octavius. [smiling] But Jack —
Ramsden. [testily] For goodness’ sake, don’t call him Jack under my roof [he throws the book violently down on the table, Then, somewhat relieved, he comes past the table to Octavius, and addresses him at close quarters with impressive gravity]. Now, Octavius, I know that my dead friend was right when he said you were a generous lad. I know that this man was your schoolfellow, and that you feel bound to stand by him because there was a boyish friendship between you. But I ask you to consider the altered circumstances. You were treated as a son in my friend’s house. You lived there; and your friends could not be turned from the door. This Tanner was in and out there on your account almost from his childhood. He addresses Annie by her Christian name as freely as you do. Well, while her father was alive, that was her father’s business, not mine. This man Tanner was only a boy to him: his opinions were something to be laughed at, like a man’s hat on a child’s head. But now Tanner is a grown man and Annie a grown woman. And her father is gone. We don’t as yet know the exact terms of his will; but he often talked it over with me; and I have no more doubt than I have that you’re sitting there that the will appoints me Annie’s trustee and guardian. [Forcibly] Now I tell you, once for all, I can’t and I won’t have Annie placed in such a position that she must, out of regard for you, suffer the intimacy of this fellow Tanner. It’s not fair: it’s not right: it’s not kind. What are you going to do about it?
Octavius. But Ann herself has told Jack that whatever his opinions are, he will always be welcome because he knew her dear father.
Ramsden. [out of patience] That girl’s mad about her duty to her parents. [He starts off like a goaded ox in the direction of John Bright, in whose expression there is no sympathy for him. As he speaks, he fumes down to Herbert Spencer, who receives him still more coldly] Excuse me, Octavius; but there are limits to social toleration. You know that I am not a bigoted or prejudiced man. You know that I am plain Roebuck Ramsden when other men who have done less have got handles to their names, because I have stood for equality and liberty of conscience while they were truckling to the Church and to the aristocracy. Whitefield and I lost chance after chance through our advanced opinions. But I draw the line at Anarchism and Free Love and that sort of thing. If I am to be Annie’s guardian, she will have to learn that she has a duty to me. I won’t have it: I will not have it. She must forbid John Tanner the house; and so must you.
The parlormaid returns.
Octavius. But —
Ramsden. [calling his attention to the servant] Ssh! Well?
The Maid. Mr Tanner wishes to see you, sir.
Ramsden. Mr Tanner!
Ramsden. How dare Mr Tanner call on me! Say I cannot see him.
Octavius. [hurt] I am sorry you are turning my friend from your door like that.
The Maid. [calmly] He’s not at the door, sir. He’s upstairs in the drawingroom with Miss Ramsden. He came with Mrs Whitefield and Miss Ann and Miss Robinson, sir.
Ramsden’s feelings are beyond words.
Octavius. [grinning] That’s very like Jack, Mr Ramsden. You must see him, even if it’s only to turn him out.
Ramsden. [hammering out his words with suppressed fury] Go upstairs and ask Mr Tanner to be good enough to step down here. [The parlormaid goes out; and Ramsden returns to the fireplace, as to a fortified position]. I must say that of all the confounded pieces of impertinence — well, if these are Anarchist manners I hope you like them. And Annie with him! Annie! A— [he chokes].
Octavius. Yes: that’s what surprises me. He’s so desperately afraid of Ann. There must be something the matter.
Mr John Tanner suddenly opens the door and enters. He is too young to be described simply as a big man with a beard. But it is already plain that middle life will find him in that category. He has still some of the slimness of youth; but youthfulness is not the effect he aims at: his frock coat would befit a prime minister; and a certain high chested carriage of the shoulders, a lofty pose of the head, and the Olympian majesty with which a mane, or rather a huge wisp, of hazel colored hair is thrown back from an imposing brow, suggest Jupiter rather than Apollo. He is prodigiously fluent of speech, restless, excitable (mark the snorting nostril and the restless blue eye, just the thirty-secondth of an inch too wide open), possibly a little mad. He is carefully dressed, not from the vanity that cannot resist finery, but from a sense of the importance of everything he does which leads him to make as much of paying a call as other men do of getting married or laying a foundation stone. A sensitive, susceptible, exaggerative, earnest man: a megalomaniac, who would be lost without a sense of humor.
Just at present the sense of humor is in abeyance. To say that he is excited is nothing: all his moods are phases of excitement. He is now in the panic-stricken phase; and he walks straight up to Ramsden as if with the fixed intention of shooting him on his own hearthrug. But what he pulls from his breast pocket is not a pistol, but a foolscap document which he thrusts under the indignant nose of Ramsden as he exclaims —
Tanner. Ramsden: do you know what that is?
Ramsden. [loftily] No, Sir.
Tanner. It’s a copy of Whitefield’s will. Ann got it this morning.
Ramsden. When you say Ann, you mean, I presume, Miss Whitefield.
Tanner. I mean our Ann, your Ann, Tavy’s Ann, and now, Heaven help me, my Ann!
Octavius. [rising, very pale] What do you mean?
Tanner. Mean! [He holds up the will]. Do you know who is appointed Ann’s guardian by this will?
Ramsden. [coolly] I believe I am.
Tanner. You! You and I, man. I! I!! I!!! Both of us! [He flings the will down on the writing table].
Ramsden. You! Impossible.
Tanner. It’s only too hideously true. [He throws himself into Octavius’s chair]. Ramsden: get me out of it somehow. You don’t know Ann as well as I do. She’ll commit every crime a respectable woman can; and she’ll justify every one of them by saying that it was the wish of her guardians. She’ll put everything on us; and we shall have no more control over her than a couple of mice over a cat.
Octavius. Jack: I wish you wouldn’t talk like that about Ann.
Tanner. This chap’s in love with her: that’s another complication. Well, she’ll either jilt him and say I didn’t approve of him, or marry him and say you ordered her to. I tell you, this is the most staggering blow that has ever fallen on a man of my age and temperament.
Ramsden. Let me see that will, sir. [He goes to the writing table and picks it up]. I cannot believe that my old friend Whitefield would have shown such a want of confidence in me as to associate me with — [His countenance falls as he reads].
Tanner. It’s all my own doing: that’s the horrible irony of it. He told me one day that you were to be Ann’s guardian; and like a fool I began arguing with him about the folly of leaving a young woman under the control of an old man with obsolete ideas.
Ramsden. [stupended] My ideas obsolete!!!!!
Tanner. Totally. I had just finished an essay called Down with Government by the Greyhaired; and I was full of arguments and illustrations. I said the proper thing was to combine the experience of an old hand with the vitality of a young one. Hang me if he didn’t take me at my word and alter his will — it’s dated only a fortnight after that conversation — appointing me as joint guardian with you!
Ramsden. [pale and determined] I shall refuse to act.
Tanner. What’s the good of that? I’ve been refusing all the way from Richmond; but Ann keeps on saying that of course she’s only an orphan; and that she can’t expect the people who were glad to come to the house in her father’s time to trouble much about her now. That’s the latest game. An orphan! It’s like hearing an ironclad talk about being at the mercy of the winds and waves.
Octavius. This is not fair, Jack. She is an orphan. And you ought to stand by her.
Tanner. Stand by her! What danger is she in? She has the law on her side; she has popular sentiment on her side; she has plenty of money and no conscience. All she wants with me is to load up all her moral responsibilities on me, and do as she likes at the expense of my character. I can’t control her; and she can compromise me as much as she likes. I might as well be her husband.
Ramsden. You can refuse to accept the guardianship. I shall certainly refuse to hold it jointly with you.
Tanner. Yes; and what will she say to that? what does she say to it? Just that her father’s wishes are sacred to her, and that she shall always look up to me as her guardian whether I care to face the responsibility or not. Refuse! You might as well refuse to accept the embraces of a boa constrictor when once it gets round your neck.
Octavius. This sort of talk is not kind to me, Jack.
Tanner. [rising and going to Octavius to console him, but still lamenting] If he wanted a young guardian, why didn’t he appoint Tavy?
Ramsden. Ah! why indeed?
Octavius. I will tell you. He sounded me about it; but I refused the trust because I loved her. I had no right to let myself be forced on her as a guardian by her father. He spoke to her about it; and she said I was right. You know I love her, Mr Ramsden; and Jack knows it too. If Jack loved a woman, I would not compare her to a boa constrictor in his presence, however much I might dislike her [he sits down between the busts and turns his face to the wall].
Ramsden. I do not believe that Whitefield was in his right senses when he made that will. You have admitted that he made it under your influence.
Tanner. You ought to be pretty well obliged to me for my influence. He leaves you two thousand five hundred for your trouble. He leaves Tavy a dowry for his sister and five thousand for himself.
Octavius. [his tears flowing afresh] Oh, I can’t take it. He was too good to us.
Tanner. You won’t get it, my boy, if Ramsden upsets the will.
Ramsden. Ha! I see. You have got me in a cleft stick.
Tanner. He leaves me nothing but the charge of Ann’s morals, on the ground that I have already more money than is good for me. That shows that he had his wits about him, doesn’t it?
Ramsden. [grimly] I admit that.
Octavius. [rising and coming from his refuge by the wall] Mr Ramsden: I think you are prejudiced against Jack. He is a man of honor, and incapable of abusing —
Tanner. Don’t, Tavy: you’ll make me ill. I am not a man of honor: I am a man struck down by a dead hand. Tavy: you must marry her after all and take her off my hands. And I had set my heart on saving you from her!
Octavius. Oh, Jack, you talk of saving me from my highest happiness.
Tanner. Yes, a lifetime of happiness. If it were only the first half hour’s happiness, Tavy, I would buy it for you with my last penny. But a lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth.
Ramsden. [violently] Stuff, sir. Talk sense; or else go and waste someone else’s time: I have something better to do than listen to your fooleries [he positively kicks his way to his table and resumes his seat].
Tanner. You hear him, Tavy! Not an idea in his head later than eighteen-sixty. We can’t leave Ann with no other guardian to turn to.
Ramsden. I am proud of your contempt for my character and opinions, sir. Your own are set forth in that book, I believe.
Tanner. [eagerly going to the table] What! You’ve got my book! What do you think of it?
Ramsden. Do you suppose I would read such a book, sir?
Tanner. Then why did you buy it?
Ramsden. I did not buy it, sir. It has been sent me by some foolish lady who seems to admire your views. I was about to dispose of it when Octavius interrupted me. I shall do so now, with your permission. [He throws the book into the waste paper basket with such vehemence that Tanner recoils under the impression that it is being thrown at his head].
Tanner. You have no more manners than I have myself. However, that saves ceremony between us. [He sits down again]. What do you intend to do about this will?
Octavius. May I make a suggestion?
Ramsden. Certainly, Octavius.
Octavius. Aren’t we forgetting that Ann herself may have some wishes in this matter?
Ramsden. I quite intend that Annie’s wishes shall be consulted in every reasonable way. But she is only a woman, and a young and inexperienced woman at that.
Tanner. Ramsden: I begin to pity you.
Ramsden. [hotly] I don’t want to know how you feel towards me, Mr Tanner.
Tanner. Ann will do just exactly what she likes. And what’s more, she’ll force us to advise her to do it; and she’ll put the blame on us if it turns out badly. So, as Tavy is longing to see her —
Octavius. [shyly] I am not, Jack.
Tanner. You lie, Tavy: you are. So let’s have her down from the drawing-room and ask her what she intends us to do. Off with you, Tavy, and fetch her. [Tavy turns to go]. And don’t be long for the strained relations between myself and Ramsden will make the interval rather painful [Ramsden compresses his lips, but says nothing — ].
Octavius. Never mind him, Mr Ramsden. He’s not serious. [He goes out].
Ramsden [very deliberately] Mr Tanner: you are the most impudent person I have ever met.
Tanner. [seriously] I know it, Ramsden. Yet even I cannot wholly conquer shame. We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins. Good Lord, my dear Ramsden, we are ashamed to walk, ashamed to ride in an omnibus, ashamed to hire a hansom instead of keeping a carriage, ashamed of keeping one horse instead of two and a groom-gardener instead of a coachman and footman. The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. Why, you’re ashamed to buy my book, ashamed to read it: the only thing you’re not ashamed of is to judge me for it without having read it; and even that only means that you’re ashamed to have heterodox opinions. Look at the effect I produce because my fairy godmother withheld from me this gift of shame. I have every possible virtue that a man can have except —
Ramsden. I am glad you think so well of yourself.
Tanner. All you mean by that is that you think I ought to be ashamed of talking about my virtues. You don’t mean that I haven’t got them: you know perfectly well that I am as sober and honest a citizen as yourself, as truthful personally, and much more truthful politically and morally.
Ramsden. [touched on his most sensitive point] I deny that. I will not allow you or any man to treat me as if I were a mere member of the British public. I detest its prejudices; I scorn its narrowness; I demand the right to think for myself. You pose as an advanced man. Let me tell you that I was an advanced man before you were born.
Tanner. I knew it was a long time ago.
Ramsden. I am as advanced as ever I was. I defy you to prove that I have ever hauled down the flag. I am more advanced than ever I was. I grow more advanced every day.
Tanner. More advanced in years, Polonius.
Ramsden. Polonius! So you are Hamlet, I suppose.
Tanner. No: I am only the most impudent person you’ve ever met. That’s your notion of a thoroughly bad character. When you want to give me a piece of your mind, you ask yourself, as a just and upright man, what is the worst you can fairly say of me. Thief, liar, forger, adulterer, perjurer, glutton, drunkard? Not one of these names fit me. You have to fall back on my deficiency in shame. Well, I admit it. I even congratulate myself; for if I were ashamed of my real self, I should cut as stupid a figure as any of the rest of you. Cultivate a little impudence, Ramsden; and you will become quite a remarkable man.
Ramsden. I have no —
Tanner. You have no desire for that sort of notoriety. Bless you, I knew that answer would come as well as I know that a box of matches will come out of an automatic machine when I put a penny in the slot: you would be ashamed to say anything else.
The crushing retort for which Ramsden has been visibly collecting his forces is lost for ever; for at this point Octavius returns with Miss Ann Whitefield and her mother; and Ramsden springs up and hurries to the door to receive them. Whether Ann is good-looking or not depends upon your taste; also and perhaps chiefly on your age and sex. To Octavius she is an enchantingly beautiful woman, in whose presence the world becomes transfigured, and the puny limits of individual consciousness are suddenly made infinite by a mystic memory of the whole life of the race to its beginnings in the east, or even back to the paradise from which it fell. She is to him the reality of romance, the leaner good sense of nonsense, the unveiling of his eyes, the freeing of his soul, the abolition of time, place and circumstance, the etherealization of his blood into rapturous rivers of the very water of life itself, the revelation of all the mysteries and the sanctification of all the dogmas. To her mother she is, to put it as moderately as possible, nothing whatever of the kind. Not that Octavius’s admiration is in any way ridiculous or discreditable. Ann is a well formed creature, as far as that goes; and she is perfectly ladylike, graceful, and comely, with ensnaring eyes and hair. Besides, instead of making herself an eyesore, like her mother, she has devised a mourning costume of black and violet silk which does honor to her late father and reveals the family tradition of brave unconventionality by which Ramsden sets such store.
But all this is beside the point as an explanation of Ann’s charm. Turn up her nose, give a cast to her eye, replace her black and violet confection by the apron and feathers of a flower girl, strike all the aitches out of her speech, and Ann would still make men dream. Vitality is as common as humanity; but, like humanity, it sometimes rises to genius; and Ann is one of the vital geniuses. Not at all, if you please, an oversexed person: that is a vital defect, not a true excess. She is a perfectly respectable, perfectly self-controlled woman, and looks it; though her pose is fashionably frank and impulsive. She inspires confidence as a person who will do nothing she does not mean to do; also some fear, perhaps, as a woman who will probably do everything she means to do without taking more account of other people than may be necessary and what she calls right. In short, what the weaker of her own sex sometimes call a cat.
Nothing can be more decorous than her entry and her reception by Ramsden, whom she kisses. The late Mr Whitefield would be gratified almost to impatience by the long faces of the men (except Tanner, who is fidgety), the silent handgrasps, the sympathetic placing of chairs, the sniffing of the widow, and the liquid eye of the daughter, whose heart, apparently, will not let her control her tongue to speech. Ramsden and Octavius take the two chairs from the wall, and place them for the two ladies; but Ann comes to Tanner and takes his chair, which he offers with a brusque gesture, subsequently relieving his irritation by sitting down on the corner of the writing table with studied indecorum. Octavius gives Mrs Whitefield a chair next Ann, and himself takes the vacant one which Ramsden has placed under the nose of the effigy of Mr Herbert Spencer.
Mrs Whitefield, by the way, is a little woman, whose faded flaxen hair looks like straw on an egg. She has an expression of muddled shrewdness, a squeak of protest in her voice, and an odd air of continually elbowing away some larger person who is crushing her into a corner. One guesses her as one of those women who are conscious of being treated as silly and negligible, and who, without having strength enough to assert themselves effectually, at any rate never submit to their fate. There is a touch of chivalry in Octavius’s scrupulous attention to her, even whilst his whole soul is absorbed by Ann.
Ramsden goes solemnly back to his magisterial seat at the writing table, ignoring Tanner, and opens the proceedings.
Ramsden. I am sorry, Annie, to force business on you at a sad time like the present. But your poor dear father’s will has raised a very serious question. You have read it, I believe?
[Ann assents with a nod and a catch of her breath, too much affected to speak].
I must say I am surprised to find Mr Tanner named as joint guardian and trustee with myself of you and Rhoda. [A pause. They all look portentous; but they have nothing to say. Ramsden, a little ruffled by the lack of any response, continues] I don’t know that I can consent to act under such conditions. Mr Tanner has, I understand, some objection also; but I do not profess to understand its nature: he will no doubt speak for himself. But we are agreed that we can decide nothing until we know your views. I am afraid I shall have to ask you to choose between my sole guardianship and that of Mr Tanner; for I fear it is impossible for us to undertake a joint arrangement.
Ann. [in a low musical voice] Mamma —
Mrs. Whitefield. [hastily] Now, Ann, I do beg you not to put it on me. I have no opinion on the subject; and if I had, it would probably not be attended to. I am quite with whatever you three think best.
Tanner turns his head and looks fixedly at Ramsden, who angrily refuses to receive this mute communication.
Ann. [resuming in the same gentle voice, ignoring her mother’s bad taste] Mamma knows that she is not strong enough to bear the whole responsibility for me and Rhoda without some help and advice. Rhoda must have a guardian; and though I am older, I do not think any young unmarried woman should be left quite to her own guidance. I hope you agree with me, Granny?
Tanner. [starting] Granny! Do you intend to call your guardians Granny?
Ann. Don’t be foolish, Jack. Mr Ramsden has always been Grandpapa Roebuck to me: I am Granny’s Annie; and he is Annie’s Granny. I christened him so when I first learned to speak.
Ramsden. [sarcastically] I hope you are satisfied, Mr Tanner. Go on, Annie: I quite agree with you.
Ann. Well, if I am to have a guardian, CAN I set aside anybody whom my dear father appointed for me?
Ramsden. [biting his lip] You approve of your father’s choice, then?
Ann. It is not for me to approve or disapprove. I accept it. My father loved me and knew best what was good for me.
Ramsden. Of course I understand your feeling, Annie. It is what I should have expected of you; and it does you credit. But it does not settle the question so completely as you think. Let me put a case to you. Suppose you were to discover that I had been guilty of some disgraceful action — that I was not the man your poor dear father took me for. Would you still consider it right that I should be Rhoda’s guardian?
Ann. I can’t imagine you doing anything disgraceful, Granny.
Tanner. [to Ramsden] You haven’t done anything of the sort, have you?
Ramsden. [indignantly] No sir.
Mrs. Whitefield. [placidly] Well, then, why suppose it?
Ann. You see, Granny, Mamma would not like me to suppose it.
Ramsden. [much perplexed] You are both so full of natural and affectionate feeling in these family matters that it is very hard to put the situation fairly before you.
Tanner. Besides, my friend, you are not putting the situation fairly before them.
Ramsden. [sulkily] Put it yourself, then.
Tanner. I will. Ann: Ramsden thinks I am not fit be your guardian; and I quite agree with him. He considers that if your father had read my book, he wouldn’t have appointed me. That book is the disgraceful action he has been talking about. He thinks it’s your duty for Rhoda’s sake to ask him to act alone and to make me withdraw. Say the word and I will.
Ann. But I haven’t read your book, Jack.
Tanner. [diving at the waste-paper basket and fishing the book out for her] Then read it at once and decide.
Ramsden. If I am to be your guardian, I positively forbid you to read that book, Annie. [He smites the table with his fist and rises].
Ann. Of course, if you don’t wish it. [She puts the book on the table].
Tanner. If one guardian is to forbid you to read the other guardian’s book, how are we to settle it? Suppose I order you to read it! What about your duty to me?
Ann. [gently] I am sure you would never purposely force me into a painful dilemma, Jack.
Ramsden. [irritably] Yes, yes, Annie: this is all very well, and, as I said, quite natural and becoming. But you must make a choice one way or the other. We are as much in a dilemma as you.
Ann. I feel that I am too young, too inexperienced, to decide. My father’s wishes are sacred to me.
Mrs. Whitefield. If you two men won’t carry them out I must say it is rather hard that you should put the responsibility on Ann. It seems to me that people are always putting things on other people in this world.
Ramsden. I am sorry you take it that way.
Ann. [touchingly] Do you refuse to accept me as your ward, Granny?
Ramsden. No: I never said that. I greatly object to act with Mr Tanner: that’s all.
Mrs. Whitefield. Why? What’s the matter with poor Jack?
Tanner. My views are too advanced for him.
Ramsden. [indignantly] They are not. I deny it.
Ann. Of course not. What nonsense! Nobody is more advanced than Granny. I am sure it is Jack himself who has made all the difficulty. Come, Jack! Be kind to me in my sorrow. You don’t refuse to accept me as your ward, do you?
Tanner. [gloomily] No. I let myself in for it; so I suppose I must face it. [He turns away to the bookcase, and stands there, moodily studying the titles of the volumes].
Ann. [rising and expanding with subdued but gushing delight] Then we are all agreed; and my dear father’s will is to be carried out. You don’t know what a joy that is to me and to my mother! [She goes to Ramsden and presses both his hands, saying] And I shall have my dear Granny to help and advise me. [She casts a glance at Tanner over her shoulder]. And Jack the Giant Killer. [She goes past her mother to Octavius]. And Jack’s inseparable friend Ricky-ticky-tavy [he blushes and looks inexpressibly foolish].
Mrs. Whitefield. [rising and shaking her widow’s weeds straight] Now that you are Ann’s guardian, Mr Ramsden, I wish you would speak to her about her habit of giving people nicknames. They can’t be expected to like it. [She moves towards the door].
Ann. How can you say such a thing, Mamma! [Glowing with affectionate remorse] Oh, I wonder can you be right! Have I been inconsiderate? [She turns to Octavius, who is sitting astride his chair with his elbows on the back of it. Putting her hand on his forehead the turns his face up suddenly]. Do you want to be treated like a grown up man? Must I call you Mr Robinson in future?
Octavius. [earnestly] Oh please call me Ricky-ticky — tavy, “Mr Robinson” would hurt me cruelly. [She laughs and pats his cheek with her finger; then comes back to Ramsden]. You know I’m beginning to think that Granny is rather a piece of impertinence. But I never dreamt of its hurting you.
Ramsden. [breezily, as he pats her affectionately on the back] My dear Annie, nonsense. I insist on Granny. I won’t answer to any other name than Annie’s Granny.
Ann. [gratefully] You all spoil me, except Jack.
Tanner. [over his shoulder, from the bookcase] I think you ought to call me Mr Tanner.
Ann. [gently] No you don’t, Jack. That’s like the things you say on purpose to shock people: those who know you pay no attention to them. But, if you like, I’ll call you after your famous ancestor Don Juan.
Ramsden. Don Juan!
Ann. [innocently] Oh, is there any harm in it? I didn’t know. Then I certainly won’t call you that. May I call you Jack until I can think of something else?
Tanner. Oh, for Heaven’s sake don’t try to invent anything worse. I capitulate. I consent to Jack. I embrace Jack. Here endeth my first and last attempt to assert my authority.
Ann. You see, Mamma, they all really like to have pet names.
Mrs. Whitefield. Well, I think you might at least drop them until we are out of mourning.
Ann. [reproachfully, stricken to the soul] Oh, how could you remind me, mother? [She hastily leaves the room to conceal her emotion].
Mrs. Whitefield. Of course. My fault as usual! [She follows Ann].
Tanner. [coming from the bockcase] Ramsden: we’re beaten — smashed — nonentitized, like her mother.
Ramsden. Stuff, Sir. [He follows Mrs Whitefield out of the room].
Tanner. [left alone with Octavius, stares whimsically at him] Tavy: do you want to count for something in the world?
Octavius. I want to count for something as a poet: I want to write a great play.
Tanner. With Ann as the heroine?
Octavius. Yes: I confess it.
Tanner. Take care, Tavy. The play with Ann as the heroine is all right; but if you’re not very careful, by Heaven she’ll marry you.
Octavius. [sighing] No such luck, Jack!
Tanner. Why, man, your head is in the lioness’s mouth: you are half swallowed already — in three bites — Bite One, Ricky; Bite Two, Ticky; Bite Three, Tavy; and down you go.
Octavius. She is the same to everybody, Jack: you know her ways.
Tanner. Yes: she breaks everybody’s back with the stroke of her paw; but the question is, which of us will she eat? My own opinion is that she means to eat you.
Octavius. [rising, pettishly] It’s horrible to talk like that about her when she is upstairs crying for her father. But I do so want her to eat me that I can bear your brutalities because they give me hope.
Tanner. Tavy; that’s the devilish side of a woman’s fascination: she makes you will your own destruction.
Octavius. But it’s not destruction: it’s fulfilment.
Tanner. Yes, of HER purpose; and that purpose is neither her happiness nor yours, but Nature’s. Vitality in a woman is a blind fury of creation. She sacrifices herself to it: do you think she will hesitate to sacrifice you?
Octavius. Why, it is just because she is self-sacrificing that she will not sacrifice those she loves.
Tanner. That is the profoundest of mistakes, Tavy. It is the self-sacrificing women that sacrifice others most recklessly. Because they are unselfish, they are kind in little things. Because they have a purpose which is not their own purpose, but that of the whole universe, a man is nothing to them but an instrument of that purpose.
Octavius. Don’t be ungenerous, Jack. They take the tenderest care of us.
Tanner. Yes, as a soldier takes care of his rifle or a musician of his violin. But do they allow us any purpose or freedom of our own? Will they lend us to one another? Can the strongest man escape from them when once he is appropriated? They tremble when we are in danger, and weep when we die; but the tears are not for us, but for a father wasted, a son’s breeding thrown away. They accuse us of treating them as a mere means to our pleasure; but how can so feeble and transient a folly as a man’s selfish pleasure enslave a woman as the whole purpose of Nature embodied in a woman can enslave a man?
Octavius. What matter, if the slavery makes us happy?
Tanner. No matter at all if you have no purpose of your own, and are, like most men, a mere breadwinner. But you, Tavy, are an artist: that is, you have a purpose as absorbing and as unscrupulous as a woman’s purpose.
Octavius. Not unscrupulous.
Tanner. Quite unscrupulous. The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art. To women he is half vivisector, half vampire. He gets into intimate relations with them to study them, to strip the mask of convention from them, to surprise their inmost secrets, knowing that they have the power to rouse his deepest creative energies, to rescue him from his cold reason, to make him see visions and dream dreams, to inspire him, as he calls it. He persuades women that they may do this for their own purpose whilst he really means them to do it for his. He steals the mother’s milk and blackens it to make printer’s ink to scoff at her and glorify ideal women with. He pretends to spare her the pangs of childbearing so that he may have for himself the tenderness and fostering that belong of right to her children. Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a bloodsucker, a hypocrite and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy! For mark you, Tavy, the artist’s work is to show us ourselves as we really are. Our minds are nothing but this knowledge of ourselves; and he who adds a jot to such knowledge creates new mind as surely as any woman creates new men. In the rage of that creation he is as ruthless as the woman, as dangerous to her as she to him, and as horribly fascinating. Of all human struggles there is none so treacherous and remorseless as the struggle between the artist man and the mother woman. Which shall use up the other? that is the issue between them. And it is all the deadlier because, in your romanticist cant, they love one another.
Octavius. Even if it were so — and I don’t admit it for a moment — it is out of the deadliest struggles that we get the noblest characters.
Tanner. Remember that the next time you meet a grizzly bear or a Bengal tiger, Tavy.
Octavius. I meant where there is love, Jack.
Tanner. Oh, the tiger will love you. There is no love sincerer than the love of food. I think Ann loves you that way: she patted your cheek as if it were a nicely underdone chop.
Octavius. You know, Jack, I should have to run away from you if I did not make it a fixed rule not to mind anything you say. You come out with perfectly revolting things sometimes.
Ramsden returns, followed by Ann. They come in quickly, with their former leisurely air of decorous grief changed to one of genuine concern, and, on Ramsden’s part, of worry. He comes between the two men, intending to address Octavius, but pulls himself up abruptly as he sees Tanner.
Ramsden. I hardly expected to find you still here, Mr Tanner.
Tanner. Am I in the way? Good morning, fellow guardian [he goes towards the door].
Ann. Stop, Jack. Granny: he must know, sooner or later.
Ramsden. Octavius: I have a very serious piece of news for you. It is of the most private and delicate nature — of the most painful nature too, I am sorry to say. Do you wish Mr Tanner to be present whilst I explain?
Octavius. [turning pale] I have no secrets from Jack.
Ramsden. Before you decide that finally, let me say that the news concerns your sister, and that it is terrible news.
Octavius. Violet! What has happened? Is she — dead?
Ramsden. I am not sure that it is not even worse than that.
Octavius. Is she badly hurt? Has there been an accident?
Ramsden. No: nothing of that sort.
Tanner. Ann: will you have the common humanity to tell us what the matter is?
Ann. [half whispering] I can’t. Violet has done something dreadful. We shall have to get her away somewhere. [She flutters to the writing table and sits in Ramsden’s chair, leaving the three men to fight it out between them].
Octavius. [enlightened] Is that what you meant, Mr Ramsden?
Ramsden. Yes. [Octavius sinks upon a chair, crushed]. I am afraid there is no doubt that Violet did not really go to Eastbourne three weeks ago when we thought she was with the Parry Whitefields. And she called on a strange doctor yesterday with a wedding ring on her finger. Mrs. Parry Whitefield met her there by chance; and so the whole thing came out.
Octavius. [rising with his fists clenched] Who is the scoundrel?
Ann. She won’t tell us.
Octavius. [collapsing upon his chair again] What a frightful thing!
Tanner. [with angry sarcasm] Dreadful. Appalling. Worse than death, as Ramsden says. [He comes to Octavius]. What would you not give, Tavy, to turn it into a railway accident, with all her bones broken or something equally respectable and deserving of sympathy?
Octavius. Don’t be brutal, Jack.
Tanner. Brutal! Good Heavens, man, what are you crying for? Here is a woman whom we all supposed to be making bad water color sketches, practising Grieg and Brahms, gadding about to concerts and parties, wasting her life and her money. We suddenly learn that she has turned from these sillinesses to the fulfilment of her highest purpose and greatest function — to increase, multiply and replenish the earth. And instead of admiring her courage and rejoicing in her instinct; instead of crowning the completed womanhood and raising the triumphal strain of “Unto us a child is born: unto us a son is given,” here you are — you who have been as merry as Brigs in your mourning for the dead — all pulling long faces and looking as ashamed and disgraced as if the girl had committed the vilest of crimes.
Ramsden. [roaring with rage] I will not have these abominations uttered in my house [he smites the writing table with his fist].
Tanner. Look here: if you insult me again I’ll take you at your word and leave your house. Ann: where is Violet now?
Ann. Why? Are you going to her?
Tanner. Of course I am going to her. She wants help; she wants money; she wants respect and congratulation. She wants every chance for her child. She does not seem likely to get it from you: she shall from me. Where is she?
Ann. Don’t be so headstrong, Jack. She’s upstairs.
Tanner. What! Under Ramsden’s sacred roof! Go and do your miserable duty, Ramsden. Hunt her out into the street. Cleanse your threshold from her contamination. Vindicate the purity of your English home. I’ll go for a cab.
Ann. [alarmed] Oh, Granny, you mustn’t do that.
Octavius. [broken-heartedly, rising] I’ll take her away, Mr Ramsden. She had no right to come to your house.
Ramsden. [indignantly] But I am only too anxious to help her. [turning on Tanner] How dare you, sir, impute such monstrous intentions to me? I protest against it. I am ready to put down my last penny to save her from being driven to run to you for protection.
Tanner. [subsiding] It’s all right, then. He’s not going to act up to his principles. It’s agreed that we all stand by Violet.
Octavius. But who is the man? He can make reparation by marrying her; and he shall, or he shall answer for it to me.
Ramsden. He shall, Octavius. There you speak like a man.
Tanner. Then you don’t think him a scoundrel, after all?
Octavius. Not a scoundrel! He is a heartless scoundrel.
Ramsden. A damned scoundrel. I beg your pardon, Annie; but I can say no less.
Tanner. So we are to marry your sister to a damned scoundrel by way of reforming her character! On my soul, I think you are all mad.
Ann. Don’t be absurd, Jack. Of course you are quite right, Tavy; but we don’t know who he is: Violet won’t tell us.
Tanner. What on earth does it matter who he is? He’s done his part; and Violet must do the rest.
Ramsden. [beside himself] Stuff! lunacy! There is a rascal in our midst, a libertine, a villain worse than a murderer; and we are not to learn who he is! In our ignorance we are to shake him by the hand; to introduce him into our homes; to trust our daughters with him; to — to —
Ann. [coaxingly] There, Granny, don’t talk so loud. It’s most shocking: we must all admit that; but if Violet won’t tell us, what can we do? Nothing. Simply nothing.
Ramsden. Hmph! I’m not so sure of that. If any man has paid Violet any special attention, we can easily find that out. If there is any man of notoriously loose principles among us —
Ramsden. [raising his voice] Yes sir, I repeat, if there is any man of notoriously loose principles among us —
Tanner. Or any man notoriously lacking in self-control.
Ramsden. [aghast] Do you dare to suggest that I am capable of such an act?
Tanner. My dear Ramsden, this is an act of which every man is capable. That is what comes of getting at cross purposes with Nature. The suspicion you have just flung at me clings to us all. It’s a sort of mud that sticks to the judge’s ermine or the cardinal’s robe as fast as to the rags of the tramp. Come, Tavy: don’t look so bewildered: it might have been me: it might have been Ramsden; just as it might have been anybody. If it had, what could we do but lie and protest as Ramsden is going to protest.
Ramsden. [choking] I— I— I—
Tanner. Guilt itself could not stammer more confusedly, And yet you know perfectly well he’s innocent, Tavy.
Ramsden. [exhausted] I am glad you admit that, sir. I admit, myself, that there is an element of truth in what you say, grossly as you may distort it to gratify your malicious humor. I hope, Octavius, no suspicion of me is possible in your mind.
Octavius. Of you! No, not for a moment.
Tanner. [drily] I think he suspects me just a little.
Octavius. Jack: you couldn’t — you wouldn’t —
Tanner. Why not?
Octavius. [appalled] Why not!
Tanner. Oh, well, I’ll tell you why not. First, you would feel bound to quarrel with me. Second, Violet doesn’t like me. Third, if I had the honor of being the father of Violet’s child, I should boast of it instead of denying it. So be easy: our Friendship is not in danger.
Octavius. I should have put away the suspicion with horror if only you would think and feel naturally about it. I beg your pardon.
Tanner. MY pardon! nonsense! And now let’s sit down and have a family council. [He sits down. The rest follow his example, more or less under protest]. Violet is going to do the State a service; consequently she must be packed abroad like a criminal until it’s over. What’s happening upstairs?
Ann. Violet is in the housekeeper’s room — by herself, of course.
Tanner. Why not in the drawingroom?
Ann. Don’t be absurd, Jack. Miss Ramsden is in the drawingroom with my mother, considering what to do.
Tanner. Oh! the housekeeper’s room is the penitentiary, I suppose; and the prisoner is waiting to be brought before her judges. The old cats!
Ann. Oh, Jack!
Ramsden. You are at present a guest beneath the roof of one of the old cats, sir. My sister is the mistress of this house.
Tanner. She would put me in the housekeeper’s room, too, if she dared, Ramsden. However, I withdraw cats. Cats would have more sense. Ann: as your guardian, I order you to go to Violet at once and be particularly kind to her.
Ann. I have seen her, Jack. And I am sorry to say I am afraid she is going to be rather obstinate about going abroad. I think Tavy ought to speak to her about it.
Octavius. How can I speak to her about such a thing [he breaks down]?
Ann. Don’t break down, Ricky. Try to bear it for all our sakes.
Ramsden. Life is not all plays and poems, Octavius. Come! face it like a man.
Tanner. [chafing again] Poor dear brother! Poor dear friends of the family! Poor dear Tabbies and Grimalkins. Poor dear everybody except the woman who is going to risk her life to create another life! Tavy: don’t you be a selfish ass. Away with you and talk to Violet; and bring her down here if she cares to come. [Octavius rises]. Tell her we’ll stand by her.
Ramsden. [rising] No, sir —
Tanner. [rising also and interrupting him] Oh, we understand: it’s against your conscience; but still you’ll do it.
Octavius. I assure you all, on my word, I never meant to be selfish. It’s so hard to know what to do when one wishes earnestly to do right.
Tanner. My dear Tavy, your pious English habit of regarding the world as a moral gymnasium built expressly to strengthen your character in, occasionally leads you to think about your own confounded principles when you should be thinking about other people’s necessities. The need of the present hour is a happy mother and a healthy baby. Bend your energies on that; and you will see your way clearly enough.
Octavius, much perplexed, goes out.
Ramsden. [facing Tanner impressively] And Morality, sir? What is to become of that?
Tanner. Meaning a weeping Magdalen and an innocent child branded with her shame. Not in our circle, thank you. Morality can go to its father the devil.
Ramsden. I thought so, sir. Morality sent to the devil to please our libertines, male and female. That is to be the future of England, is it?
Tanner. Oh, England will survive your disapproval. Meanwhile, I understand that you agree with me as to the practical course we are to take?
Ramsden. Not in your spirit sir. Not for your reasons.
Tanner. You can explain that if anybody calls you to account, here or hereafter. [He turns away, and plants himself in front of Mr Herbert Spencer, at whom he stares gloomily].
Ann. [rising and coming to Ramsden] Granny: hadn’t you better go up to the drawingroom and tell them what we intend to do?
Ramsden. [looking pointedly at Tanner] I hardly like to leave you alone with this gentleman. Will you not come with me?
Ann. Miss Ramsden would not like to speak about it before me, Granny. I ought not to be present.
Ramsden. You are right: I should have thought of that. You are a good girl, Annie.
He pats her on the shoulder. She looks up at him with beaming eyes and he goes out, much moved. Having disposed of him, she looks at Tanner. His back being turned to her, she gives a moment’s attention to her personal appearance, then softly goes to him and speaks almost into his ear.
Ann. Jack [he turns with a start]: are you glad that you are my guardian? You don’t mind being made responsible for me, I hope.
Tanner. The latest addition to your collection of scapegoats, eh?
Ann. Oh, that stupid old joke of yours about me! Do please drop it. Why do you say things that you know must pain me? I do my best to please you, Jack: I suppose I may tell you so now that you are my guardian. You will make me so unhappy if you refuse to be friends with me.
Tanner. [studying her as gloomily as he studied the dust] You need not go begging for my regard. How unreal our moral judgments are! You seem to me to have absolutely no conscience — only hypocrisy; and you can’t see the difference — yet there is a sort of fascination about you. I always attend to you, somehow. I should miss you if I lost you.
Ann. [tranquilly slipping her arm into his and walking about with him] But isn’t that only natural, Jack? We have known each other since we were children. Do you remember?
Tanner. [abruptly breaking loose] Stop! I remember EVERYTHING.
Ann. Oh, I daresay we were often very silly; but —
Tanner. I won’t have it, Ann. I am no more that schoolboy now than I am the dotard of ninety I shall grow into if I live long enough. It is over: let me forget it.
Ann. Wasn’t it a happy time? [She attempts to take his arm again].
Tanner. Sit down and behave yourself. [He makes her sit down in the chair next the writing table]. No doubt it was a happy time for you. You were a good girl and never compromised yourself. And yet the wickedest child that ever was slapped could hardly have had a better time. I can understand the success with which you bullied the other girls: your virtue imposed on them. But tell me this: did you ever know a good boy?
Ann. Of course. All boys are foolish sometimes; but Tavy was always a really good boy.
Tanner. [struck by this] Yes: you’re right. For some reason you never tempted Tavy.
Ann. Tempted! Jack!
Tanner. Yes, my dear Lady Mephistopheles, tempted. You were insatiably curious as to what a boy might be capable of, and diabolically clever at getting through his guard and surprising his inmost secrets.
Ann. What nonsense! All because you used to tell me long stories of the wicked things you had done — silly boys tricks! And you call such things inmost secrets: Boys’ secrets are just like men’s; and you know what they are!
Tanner. [obstinately] No I don’t. What are they, pray?
Ann. Why, the things they tell everybody, of course.
Tanner. Now I swear I told you things I told no one else. You lured me into a compact by which we were to have no secrets from one another. We were to tell one another everything, I didn’t notice that you never told me anything.
Ann. You didn’t want to talk about me, Jack. You wanted to talk about yourself.
Tanner. Ah, true, horribly true. But what a devil of a child you must have been to know that weakness and to play on it for the satisfaction of your own curiosity! I wanted to brag to you, to make myself interesting. And I found myself doing all sorts of mischievous things simply to have something to tell you about. I fought with boys I didn’t hate; I lied about things I might just as well have told the truth about; I stole things I didn’t want; I kissed little girls I didn’t care for. It was all bravado: passionless and therefore unreal.
Ann. I never told of you, Jack.
Tanner. No; but if you had wanted to stop me you would have told of me. You wanted me to go on.
Ann. [flashing out] Oh, that’s not true: it’s NOT true, Jack. I never wanted you to do those dull, disappointing, brutal, stupid, vulgar things. I always hoped that it would be something really heroic at last. [Recovering herself] Excuse me, Jack; but the things you did were never a bit like the things I wanted you to do. They often gave me great uneasiness; but I could not tell on you and get you into trouble. And you were only a boy. I knew you would grow out of them. Perhaps I was wrong.
Tanner. [sardonically] Do not give way to remorse, Ann. At least nineteen twentieths of the exploits I confessed to you were pure lies. I soon noticed that you didn’t like the true stories.
Ann. Of course I knew that some of the things couldn’t have happened. But —
Tanner. You are going to remind me that some of the most disgraceful ones did.
Ann. [fondly, to his great terror] I don’t want to remind you of anything. But I knew the people they happened to, and heard about them.
Tanner. Yes; but even the true stories were touched up for telling. A sensitive boy’s humiliations may be very good fun for ordinary thickskinned grown-ups; but to the boy himself they are so acute, so ignominious, that he cannot confess them — cannot but deny them passionately. However, perhaps it was as well for me that I romanced a bit; for, on the one occasion when I told you the truth, you threatened to tell of me.
Ann. Oh, never. Never once.
Tanner. Yes, you did. Do you remember a dark-eyed girl named Rachel Rosetree? [Ann’s brows contract for an instant involuntarily]. I got up a love affair with her; and we met one night in the garden and walked about very uncomfortably with our arms round one another, and kissed at parting, and were most conscientiously romantic. If that love affair had gone on, it would have bored me to death; but it didn’t go on; for the next thing that happened was that Rachel cut me because she found out that I had told you. How did she find it out? From you. You went to her and held the guilty secret over her head, leading her a life of abject terror and humiliation by threatening to tell on her.
Ann. And a very good thing for her, too. It was my duty to stop her misconduct; and she is thankful to me for it now.
Tanner. Is she?
Ann. She ought to be, at all events.
Tanner. It was not your duty to stop my misconduct, I suppose.
Ann. I did stop it by stopping her.
Tanner. Are you sure of that? You stopped my telling you about my adventures; but how do you know that you stopped the adventures?
Ann. Do you mean to say that you went on in the same way with other girls?
Tanner. No. I had enough of that sort of romantic tomfoolery with Rachel.
Ann. [unconvinced] Then why did you break off our confidences and become quite strange to me?
Tanner. [enigmatically] It happened just then that I got something that I wanted to keep all to myself instead of sharing it with you.
Ann. I am sure I shouldn’t have asked for any of it if you had grudged it.
Tanner. It wasn’t a box of sweets, Ann. It was something you’d never have let me call my own.
Ann. [incredulously] What?
Tanner. My soul.
Ann. Oh, do be sensible, Jack. You know you’re talking nonsense.
Tanner. The most solemn earnest, Ann. You didn’t notice at that time that you were getting a soul too. But you were. It was not for nothing that you suddenly found you had a moral duty to chastise and reform Rachel. Up to that time you had traded pretty extensively in being a good child; but you had never set up a sense of duty to others. Well, I set one up too. Up to that time I had played the boy buccaneer with no more conscience than a fox in a poultry farm. But now I began to have scruples, to feel obligations, to find that veracity and honor were no longer goody-goody expressions in the mouths of grown up people, but compelling principles in myself.
Ann. [quietly] Yes, I suppose you’re right. You were beginning to be a man, and I to be a woman.
Tanner. Are you sure it was not that we were beginning to be something more? What does the beginning of manhood and womanhood mean in most people’s mouths? You know: it means the beginning of love. But love began long before that for me. Love played its part in the earliest dreams and follies and romances I can remember — may I say the earliest follies and romances we can remember? — though we did not understand it at the time. No: the change that came to me was the birth in me of moral passion; and I declare that according to my experience moral passion is the only real passion.
Ann. All passions ought to be moral, Jack.
Tanner. Ought! Do you think that anything is strong enough to impose oughts on a passion except a stronger passion still?
Ann. Our moral sense controls passion, Jack. Don’t be stupid.
Tanner. Our moral sense! And is that not a passion? Is the devil to have all the passions as well as all the good times? If it were not a passion — if it were not the mightiest of the passions, all the other passions would sweep it away like a leaf before a hurricane. It is the birth of that passion that turns a child into a man.
Ann. There are other passions, Jack. Very strong ones.
Tanner. All the other passions were in me before; but they were idle and aimless — mere childish greedinesses and cruelties, curiosities and fancies, habits and superstitions, grotesque and ridiculous to the mature intelligence. When they suddenly began to shine like newly lit flames it was by no light of their own, but by the radiance of the dawning moral passion. That passion dignified them, gave them conscience and meaning, found them a mob of appetites and organized them into an army of purposes and principles. My soul was born of that passion.
Ann. I noticed that you got more sense. You were a dreadfully destructive boy before that.
Tanner. Destructive! Stuff! I was only mischievous.
Ann. Oh Jack, you were very destructive. You ruined all the young fir trees by chopping off their leaders with a wooden sword. You broke all the cucumber frames with your catapult. You set fire to the common: the police arrested Tavy for it because he ran away when he couldn’t stop you. You —
Tanner. Pooh! pooh! pooh! these were battles, bombardments, stratagems to save our scalps from the red Indians. You have no imagination, Ann. I am ten times more destructive now than I was then. The moral passion has taken my destructiveness in hand and directed it to moral ends. I have become a reformer, and, like all reformers, an iconoclast. I no longer break cucumber frames and burn gorse bushes: I shatter creeds and demolish idols.
Ann. [bored] I am afraid I am too feminine to see any sense in destruction. Destruction can only destroy.
Tanner. Yes. That is why it is so useful. Construction cumbers the ground with institutions made by busybodies. Destruction clears it and gives us breathing space and liberty.
Ann. It’s no use, Jack. No woman will agree with you there.
Tanner. That’s because you confuse construction and destruction with creation and murder. They’re quite different: I adore creation and abhor murder. Yes: I adore it in tree and flower, in bird and beast, even in you. [A flush of interest and delight suddenly clears the growing perplexity and boredom from her face]. It was the creative instinct that led you to attach me to you by bonds that have left their mark on me to this day. Yes, Ann: the old childish compact between us was an unconscious love compact.
Tanner. Oh, don’t be alarmed —
Ann. I am not alarmed.
Tanner. [whimsically] Then you ought to be: where are your principles?
Ann. Jack: are you serious or are you not?
Tanner. Do you mean about the moral passion?
Ann. No, no; the other one. [Confused] Oh! you are so silly; one never knows how to take you.
Tanner. You must take me quite seriously. I am your guardian; and it is my duty to improve your mind.
Ann. The love compact is over, then, is it? I suppose you grew tired of me?
Tanner. No; but the moral passion made our childish relations impossible. A jealous sense of my new individuality arose in me.
Ann. You hated to be treated as a boy any longer. Poor Jack!
Tanner. Yes, because to be treated as a boy was to be taken on the old footing. I had become a new person; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor: he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.
Ann. You became frightfully self-conscious.
Tanner. When you go to heaven, Ann, you will be frightfully conscious of your wings for the first year or so. When you meet your relatives there, and they persist in treating you as if you were still a mortal, you will not be able to bear them. You will try to get into a circle which has never known you except as an angel.
Ann. So it was only your vanity that made you run away from us after all?
Tanner. Yes, only my vanity, as you call it.
Ann. You need not have kept away from ME on that account.
Tanner. From you above all others. You fought harder than anybody against my emancipation.
Ann. [earnestly] Oh, how wrong you are! I would have done anything for you.
Tanner. Anything except let me get loose from you. Even then you had acquired by instinct that damnable woman’s trick of heaping obligations on a man, of placing yourself so entirely and helplessly at his mercy that at last he dare not take a step without running to you for leave. I know a poor wretch whose one desire in life is to run away from his wife. She prevents him by threatening to throw herself in front of the engine of the train he leaves her in. That is what all women do. If we try to go where you do not want us to go there is no law to prevent us, but when we take the first step your breasts are under our foot as it descends: your bodies are under our wheels as we start. No woman shall ever enslave me in that way.
Ann. But, Jack, you cannot get through life without considering other people a little.
Tanner. Ay; but what other people? It is this consideration of other people or rather this cowardly fear of them which we call consideration that makes us the sentimental slaves we are. To consider you, as you call it, is to substitute your will for my own. How if it be a baser will than mine? Are women taught better than men or worse? Are mobs of voters taught better than statesmen or worse? Worse, of course, in both cases. And then what sort of world are you going to get, with its public men considering its voting mobs, and its private men considering their wives? What does Church and State mean nowadays? The Woman and the Ratepayer.
Ann. [placidly] I am so glad you understand politics, Jack: it will be most useful to you if you go into parliament [he collapses like a pricked bladder]. But I am sorry you thought my influence a bad one.
Tanner. I don’t say it was a bad one. But bad or good, I didn’t choose to be cut to your measure. And I won’t be cut to it.
Ann. Nobody wants you to, Jack. I assure you — really on my word — I don’t mind your queer opinions one little bit. You know we have all been brought up to have advanced opinions. Why do you persist in thinking me so narrow minded?
Tanner. That’s the danger of it. I know you don’t mind, because you’ve found out that it doesn’t matter. The boa constrictor doesn’t mind the opinions of a stag one little bit when once she has got her coils round it.
Ann. [rising in sudden enlightenment] O-o-o-o-oh! NOW I understand why you warned Tavy that I am a boa constrictor. Granny told me. [She laughs and throws her boa around her neck]. Doesn’t it feel nice and soft, Jack?
Tanner. [in the toils] You scandalous woman, will you throw away even your hypocrisy?
Ann. I am never hypocritical with you, Jack. Are you angry? [She withdraws the boa and throws it on a chair]. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that.
Tanner. [contemptuously] Pooh, prudery! Why should you not, if it amuses you?
Ann. [Shyly] Well, because — because I suppose what you really meant by the boa constrictor was THIS [she puts her arms round his neck].
Tanner. [Staring at her] Magnificent audacity! [She laughs and pats his cheeks]. Now just to think that if I mentioned this episode not a soul would believe me except the people who would cut me for telling, whilst if you accused me of it nobody would believe my denial.
Ann. [taking her arms away with perfect dignity] You are incorrigible, Jack. But you should not jest about our affection for one another. Nobody could possibly misunderstand it. YOU do not misunderstand it, I hope.
Tanner. My blood interprets for me, Ann. Poor Ricky Tiky Tavy!
Ann. [looking quickly at him as if this were a new light] Surely you are not so absurd as to be jealous of Tavy.
Tanner. Jealous! Why should I be? But I don’t wonder at your grip of him. I feel the coils tightening round my very self, though you are only playing with me.
Ann. Do you think I have designs on Tavy?
Tanner. I know you have.
Ann. [earnestly] Take care, Jack. You may make Tavy very happy if you mislead him about me.
Tanner. Never fear: he will not escape you.
Ann. I wonder are you really a clever man!
Tanner. Why this sudden misgiving on the subject?
Ann. You seem to understand all the things I don’t understand; but you are a perfect baby in the things I do understand.
Tanner. I understand how Tavy feels for you, Ann; you may depend on that, at all events.
Ann. And you think you understand how I feel for Tavy, don’t you?
Tanner. I know only too well what is going to happen to poor Tavy.
Ann. I should laugh at you, Jack, if it were not for poor papa’s death. Mind! Tavy will be very unhappy.
Tanner. Yes; but he won’t know it, poor devil. He is a thousand times too good for you. That’s why he is going to make the mistake of his life about you.
Ann. I think men make more mistakes by being too clever than by being too good [she sits down, with a trace of contempt for the whole male sex in the elegant carriage of her shoulders].
Tanner. Oh, I know you don’t care very much about Tavy. But there is always one who kisses and one who only allows the kiss. Tavy will kiss; and you will only turn the cheek. And you will throw him over if anybody better turns up.
Ann. [offended] You have no right to say such things, Jack. They are not true, and not delicate. If you and Tavy choose to be stupid about me, that is not my fault.
Tanner. [remorsefully] Forgive my brutalities, Ann. They are levelled at this wicked world, not at you. [She looks up at him, pleased and forgiving. He becomes cautious at once]. All the same, I wish Ramsden would come back. I never feel safe with you: there is a devilish charm — or no: not a charm, a subtle interest [she laughs]. Just so: you know it; and you triumph in it. Openly and shamelessly triumph in it!
Ann. What a shocking flirt you are, Jack!
Tanner. A flirt!! I!!
Ann. Yes, a flirt. You are always abusing and offending people, but you never really mean to let go your hold of them.
Tanner. I will ring the bell. This conversation has already gone further than I intended.
Ramsden and Octavius come back with Miss Ramsden, a hardheaded old maiden lady in a plain brown silk gown, with enough rings, chains and brooches to show that her plainness of dress is a matter of principle, not of poverty. She comes into the room very determinedly: the two men, perplexed and downcast, following her. Ann rises and goes eagerly to meet her. Tanner retreats to the wall between the busts and pretends to study the pictures. Ramsden goes to his table as usual; and Octavius clings to the neighborhood of Tanner.
Miss Ramsden. [almost pushing Ann aside as she comes to Mr. Whitefield’s chair and plants herself there resolutely] I wash my hands of the whole affair.
Octavius. [very wretched] I know you wish me to take Violet away, Miss Ramsden. I will. [He turns irresolutely to the door].
Ramsden. No no —
Miss Ramsden. What is the use of saying no, Roebuck? Octavius knows that I would not turn any truly contrite and repentant woman from your doors. But when a woman is not only wicked, but intends to go on being wicked, she and I part company.
Ann. Oh, Miss Ramsden, what do you mean? What has Violet said?
Ramsden. Violet is certainly very obstinate. She won’t leave London. I don’t understand her.
Miss Ramsden. I do. It’s as plain as the nose on your face, Roebuck, that she won’t go because she doesn’t want to be separated from this man, whoever he is.
Ann. Oh, surely, surely! Octavius: did you speak to her?
Octavius. She won’t tell us anything. She won’t make any arrangement until she has consulted somebody. It can’t be anybody else than the scoundrel who has betrayed her.
Tanner. [to Octavius] Well, let her consult him. He will be glad enough to have her sent abroad. Where is the difficulty?
Miss Ramsden. [Taking the answer out of Octavius’s mouth]. The difficulty, Mr Jack, is that when he offered to help her I didn’t offer to become her accomplice in her wickedness. She either pledges her word never to see that man again, or else she finds some new friends; and the sooner the better.
[The parlormaid appears at the door. Ann hastily resumes her seat, and looks as unconcerned as possible. Octavius instinctively imitates her].
The Maid. The cab is at the door, ma’am.
Miss Ramsden. What cab?
The Maid. For Miss Robinson.
Miss Ramsden. Oh! [Recovering herself] All right. [The maid withdraws]. She has sent for a cab.
Tanner. I wanted to send for that cab half an hour ago.
Miss Ramsden. I am glad she understands the position she has placed herself in.
Ramsden. I don’t like her going away in this fashion, Susan. We had better not do anything harsh.
Octavius. No: thank you again and again; but Miss Ramsden is quite right. Violet cannot expect to stay.
Ann. Hadn’t you better go with her, Tavy?
Octavius. She won’t have me.
Miss Ramsden. Of course she won’t. She’s going straight to that man.
Tanner. As a natural result of her virtuous reception here.
Ramsden. [much troubled] There, Susan! You hear! and there’s some truth in it. I wish you could reconcile it with your principles to be a little patient with this poor girl. She’s very young; and there’s a time for everything.
Miss Ramsden. Oh, she will get all the sympathy she wants from the men. I’m surprised at you, Roebuck.
Tanner. So am I, Ramsden, most favorably.
Violet appears at the door. She is as impenitent and self-assured a young lady as one would desire to see among the best behaved of her sex. Her small head and tiny resolute mouth and chin; her haughty crispness of speech and trimness of carriage; the ruthless elegance of her equipment, which includes a very smart hat with a dead bird in it, mark a personality which is as formidable as it is exquisitely pretty. She is not a siren, like Ann: admiration comes to her without any compulsion or even interest on her part; besides, there is some fun in Ann, but in this woman none, perhaps no mercy either: if anything restrains her, it is intelligence and pride, not compassion. Her voice might be the voice of a schoolmistress addressing a class of girls who had disgraced themselves, as she proceeds with complete composure and some disgust to say what she has come to say.
Violet. I have only looked in to tell Miss Ramsden that she will find her birthday present to me, the filagree bracelet, in the housekeeper’s room.
Tanner. Do come in, Violet, and talk to us sensibly.
Violet. Thank you: I have had quite enough of the family conversation this morning. So has your mother, Ann: she has gone home crying. But at all events, I have found out what some of my pretended friends are worth. Good bye.
Tanner. No, no: one moment. I have something to say which I beg you to hear. [She looks at him without the slightest curiosity, but waits, apparently as much to finish getting her glove on as to hear what he has to say]. I am altogether on your side in this matter. I congratulate you, with the sincerest respect, on having the courage to do what you have done. You are entirely in the right; and the family is entirely in the wrong.
Sensation. Ann and Miss Ramsden rise and turn toward the two. Violet, more surprised than any of the others, forgets her glove, and comes forward into the middle of the room, both puzzled and displeased. Octavius alone does not move or raise his head; he is overwhelmed with shame.
Ann. [pleading to Tanner to be sensible] Jack!
Miss Ramsden. [outraged] Well, I must say!
Violet. [sharply to Tanner] Who told you?
Tanner. Why, Ramsden and Tavy of course. Why should they not?
Violet. But they don’t know.
Tanner. Don’t know what?
Violet. They don’t know that I am in the right, I mean.
Tanner. Oh, they know it in their hearts, though they think themselves bound to blame you by their silly superstitions about morality and propriety and so forth. But I know, and the whole world really knows, though it dare not say so, that you were right to follow your instinct; that vitality and bravery are the greatest qualities a woman can have, and motherhood her solemn initiation into womanhood; and that the fact of your not being legally married matters not one scrap either to your own worth or to our real regard for you.
Violet. [flushing with indignation] Oh! You think me a wicked woman, like the rest. You think I have not only been vile, but that I share your abominable opinions. Miss Ramsden: I have borne your hard words because I knew you would be sorry for them when you found out the truth. But I won’t bear such a horrible insult as to be complimented by Jack on being one of the wretches of whom he approves. I have kept my marriage a secret for my husband’s sake. But now I claim my right as a married woman not to be insulted.
Octavius. [raising his head with inexpressible relief] You are married!
Violet. Yes; and I think you might have guessed it. What business had you all to take it for granted that I had no right to wear my wedding ring? Not one of you even asked me: I cannot forget that.
Tanner. [in ruins] I am utterly crushed. I meant well — I apologize — abjectly apologize.
Violet. I hope you will be more careful in future about the things you say. Of course one does not take them seriously. But they are very disagreeable, and rather in bad taste.
Tanner. [bowing to the storm] I have no defence: I shall know better in future than to take any woman’s part. We have all disgraced ourselves in your eyes, I am afraid, except Ann, SHE befriended you. For Ann’s sake, forgive us.
Violet. Yes: Ann has been very kind; but then Ann knew.
Miss Ramsden. [stiffly] And who, pray, is the gentleman who does not acknowledge his wife?
Violet. [promptly] That is my business, Miss Ramsden, and not yours. I have my reasons for keeping my marriage a secret for the present.
Ramsden. All I can say is that we are extremely sorry, Violet. I am shocked to think of how we have treated you.
Octavius. [awkwardly] I beg your pardon, Violet. I can say no more.
Miss Ramsden. [still loth to surrender] Of course what you say puts a very different complexion on the matter. All the same, I owe it to myself —
Violet. [cutting her short] You owe me an apology, Miss Ramsden: that’s what you owe both to yourself and to me. If you were a married woman you would not like sitting in the housekeeper’s room and being treated like a naughty child by young girls and old ladies without any serious duties and responsibilities.
Tanner. Don’t hit us when we’re down, Violet. We seem to have made fools of ourselves; but really it was you who made fools of us.
Violet. It was no business of yours, Jack, in any case.
Tanner. No business of mine! Why, Ramsden as good as accused me of being the unknown gentleman.
Ramsden makes a frantic demonstration; but Violet’s cool keen anger extinguishes it.
Violet. You! Oh, how infamous! how abominable! How disgracefully you have all been talking about me! If my husband knew it he would never let me speak to any of you again. [To Ramsden] I think you might have spared me, at least.
Ramsden. But I assure you I never — at least it is a monstrous perversion of something I said that —
Miss Ramsden. You needn’t apologize, Roebuck. She brought it all on herself. It is for her to apologize for having deceived us.
Violet. I can make allowances for you, Miss Ramsden: you cannot understand how I feel on this subject though I should have expected rather better taste from people of greater experience. However, I quite feel that you have all placed yourselves in a very painful position; and the most truly considerate thing for me to do is to go at once. Good morning.
She goes, leaving them staring.
Miss Ramsden. Well, I must say —!
Ramsden. [plaintively] I don’t think she is quite fair to us.
Tanner. You must cower before the wedding ring like the rest of us, Ramsden. The cup of our ignominy is full.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54