On the carriage drive in the park of a country house near Richmond a motor car has broken down. It stands in front of a clump of trees round which the drive sweeps to the house, which is partly visible through them: indeed Tanner, standing in the drive with the car on his right hand, could get an unobstructed view of the west corner of the house on his left were he not far too much interested in a pair of supine legs in blue serge trousers which protrude from beneath the machine. He is watching them intently with bent back and hands supported on his knees. His leathern overcoat and peaked cap proclaim him one of the dismounted passengers.
The Legs. Aha! I got him.
Tanner. All right now?
The Legs. All right now.
Tanner stoops and takes the legs by the ankles, drawing their owner forth like a wheelbarrow, walking on his hands, with a hammer in his mouth. He is a young man in a neat suit of blue serge, clean shaven, dark eyed, square fingered, with short well brushed black hair and rather irregular sceptically turned eyebrows. When he is manipulating the car his movements are swift and sudden, yet attentive and deliberate. With Tanner and Tanner’s friends his manner is not in the least deferential, but cool and reticent, keeping them quite effectually at a distance whilst giving them no excuse for complaining of him. Nevertheless he has a vigilant eye on them always, and that, too, rather cynically, like a man who knows the world well from its seamy side. He speaks slowly and with a touch of sarcasm; and as he does not at all affect the gentleman in his speech, it may be inferred that his smart appearance is a mark of respect to himself and his own class, not to that which employs him.
He now gets into the car to test his machinery and put his cap and overcoat on again. Tanner takes off his leather overcoat and pitches it into the car. The chauffeur (or automobilist or motoreer or whatever England may presently decide to call him) looks round inquiringly in the act of stowing away his hammer.
The Chauffeur. Had enough of it, eh?
Tanner. I may as well walk to the house and stretch my legs and calm my nerves a little. [Looking at his watch] I suppose you know that we have come from Hyde Park Corner to Richmond in twenty-one minutes.
The Chauffeur. I’d have done it under fifteen if I’d had a clear road all the way.
Tanner. Why do you do it? Is it for love of sport or for the fun of terrifying your unfortunate employer?
The Chauffeur. What are you afraid of?
Tanner. The police, and breaking my neck.
The Chauffeur. Well, if you like easy going, you can take a bus, you know. It’s cheaper. You pay me to save your time and give you the value of your thousand pound car. [He sits down calmly].
Tanner. I am the slave of that car and of you too. I dream of the accursed thing at night.
The Chauffeur. You’ll get over that. If you’re going up to the house, may I ask how long you’re goin to stay there? Because if you mean to put in the whole morning talkin to the ladies, I’ll put the car in the stables and make myself comfortable. If not, I’ll keep the car on the go about here til you come.
Tanner. Better wait here. We shan’t be long. There’s a young American gentleman, a Mr Malone, who is driving Mr Robinson down in his new American steam car.
The Chauffeur. [springing up and coming hastily out of the car to Tanner] American steam car! Wot! racin us down from London!
Tanner. Perhaps they’re here already.
The Chauffeur. If I’d known it! [with deep reproach] Why didn’t you tell me, Mr Tanner?
Tanner. Because I’ve been told that this car is capable of 84 miles an hour; and I already know what YOU are capable of when there is a rival car on the road. No, Henry: there are things it is not good for you to know; and this was one of them. However, cheer up: we are going to have a day after your own heart. The American is to take Mr Robinson and his sister and Miss Whitefield. We are to take Miss Rhoda.
The Chauffeur. [consoled, and musing on another matter] That’s Miss Whitefield’s sister, isn’t it?
The Chauffeur. And Miss Whitefield herself is goin in the other car? Not with you?
Tanner. Why the devil should she come with me? Mr Robinson will be in the other car. [The Chauffeur looks at Tanner with cool incredulity, and turns to the car, whistling a popular air softly to himself. Tanner, a little annoyed, is about to pursue the subject when he hears the footsteps of Octavius on the gravel. Octavius is coming from the house, dressed for motoring, but without his overcoat]. We’ve lost the race, thank Heaven: here’s Mr Robinson. Well, Tavy, is the steam car a success?
Octavius. I think so. We came from Hyde Park Corner here in seventeen minutes. [The Chauffeur, furious, kicks the car with a groan of vexation]. How long were you?
Tanner. Oh, about three quarters of an hour or so.
The Chauffeur. [remonstrating] Now, now, Mr Tanner, come now! We could ha done it easy under fifteen.
Tanner. By the way, let me introduce you. Mr Octavius Robinson: Mr Enry Straker.
Straker. Pleased to meet you, sir. Mr Tanner is gittin at you with his Enry Straker, you know. You call it Henery. But I don’t mind, bless you.
Tanner. You think it’s simply bad taste in me to chaff him, Tavy. But you’re wrong. This man takes more trouble to drop his aiches than ever his father did to pick them up. It’s a mark of caste to him. I have never met anybody more swollen with the pride of class than Enry is.
Straker. Easy, easy! A little moderation, Mr Tanner.
Tanner. A little moderation, Tavy, you observe. You would tell me to draw it mild, But this chap has been educated. What’s more, he knows that we haven’t. What was that board school of yours, Straker?
Straker. Sherbrooke Road.
Tanner. Sherbrooke Road! Would any of us say Rugby! Harrow! Eton! in that tone of intellectual snobbery? Sherbrooke Road is a place where boys learn something; Eton is a boy farm where we are sent because we are nuisances at home, and because in after life, whenever a Duke is mentioned, we can claim him as an old schoolfellow.
Straker. You don’t know nothing about it, Mr. Tanner. It’s not the Board School that does it: it’s the Polytechnic.
Tanner. His university, Octavius. Not Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Dublin or Glasgow. Not even those Nonconformist holes in Wales. No, Tavy. Regent Street, Chelsea, the Borough — I don’t know half their confounded names: these are his universities, not mere shops for selling class limitations like ours. You despise Oxford, Enry, don’t you?
Straker. No, I don’t. Very nice sort of place, Oxford, I should think, for people that like that sort of place. They teach you to be a gentleman there. In the Polytechnic they teach you to be an engineer or such like. See?
Tanner. Sarcasm, Tavy, sarcasm! Oh, if you could only see into Enry’s soul, the depth of his contempt for a gentleman, the arrogance of his pride in being an engineer, would appal you. He positively likes the car to break down because it brings out my gentlemanly helplessness and his workmanlike skill and resource.
Straker. Never you mind him, Mr Robinson. He likes to talk. We know him, don’t we?
Octavius. [earnestly] But there’s a great truth at the bottom of what he says. I believe most intensely in the dignity of labor.
Straker. [unimpressed] That’s because you never done any Mr Robinson. My business is to do away with labor. You’ll get more out of me and a machine than you will out of twenty laborers, and not so much to drink either.
Tanner. For Heaven’s sake, Tavy, don’t start him on political economy. He knows all about it; and we don’t. You’re only a poetic Socialist, Tavy: he’s a scientific one.
Straker. [unperturbed] Yes. Well, this conversation is very improvin; but I’ve got to look after the car; and you two want to talk about your ladies. I know. [He retires to busy himself about the car; and presently saunters off towards the house].
Tanner. That’s a very momentous social phenomenon.
Octavius. What is?
Tanner. Straker is. Here have we literary and cultured persons been for years setting up a cry of the New Woman whenever some unusually old fashioned female came along; and never noticing the advent of the New Man. Straker’s the New Man.
Octavius. I see nothing new about him, except your way of chaffing him. But I don’t want to talk about him just now. I want to speak to you about Ann.
Tanner. Straker knew even that. He learnt it at the Polytechnic, probably. Well, what about Ann? Have you proposed to her?
Octavius. [self-reproachfully] I was brute enough to do so last night.
Tanner. Brute enough! What do you mean?
Octavius. [dithyrambically] Jack: we men are all coarse. We never understand how exquisite a woman’s sensibilities are. How could I have done such a thing!
Tanner. Done what, you maudlin idiot?
Octavius. Yes, I am an idiot. Jack: if you had heard her voice! if you had seen her tears! I have lain awake all night thinking of them. If she had reproached me, I could have borne it better.
Tanner. Tears! that’s dangerous. What did she say?
Octavius. She asked me how she could think of anything now but her dear father. She stifled a sob — [he breaks down].
Tanner. [patting him on the back] Bear it like a man, Tavy, even if you feel it like an ass. It’s the old game: she’s not tired of playing with you yet.
Octavius. [impatiently] Oh, don’t be a fool, Jack. Do you suppose this eternal shallow cynicism of yours has any real bearing on a nature like hers?
Tanner. Hm! Did she say anything else?
Octavius. Yes; and that is why I expose myself and her to your ridicule by telling you what passed.
Tanner. [remorsefully] No, dear Tavy, not ridicule, on my honor! However, no matter. Go on.
Octavius. Her sense of duty is so devout, so perfect, so —
Tanner. Yes: I know. Go on.
Octavius. You see, under this new arrangement, you and Ramsden are her guardians; and she considers that all her duty to her father is now transferred to you. She said she thought I ought to have spoken to you both in the first instance. Of course she is right; but somehow it seems rather absurd that I am to come to you and formally ask to be received as a suitor for your ward’s hand.
Tanner. I am glad that love has not totally extinguished your sense of humor, Tavy.
Octavius. That answer won’t satisfy her.
Tanner. My official answer is, obviously, Bless you, my children: may you be happy!
Octavius. I wish you would stop playing the fool about this. If it is not serious to you, it is to me, and to her.
Tanner. You know very well that she is as free to choose as you. She does not think so.
Tanner. Oh, doesn’t she! just! However, say what you want me to do.
Octavius. I want you to tell her sincerely and earnestly what you think about me. I want you to tell her that you can trust her to me — that is, if you feel you can.
Tanner. I have no doubt that I can trust her to you. What worries me is the idea of trusting you to her. Have you read Maeterlinck’s book about the bee?
Octavius. [keeping his temper with difficulty] I am not discussing literature at present.
Tanner. Be just a little patient with me. I am not discussing literature: the book about the bee is natural history. It’s an awful lesson to mankind. You think that you are Ann’s suitor; that you are the pursuer and she the pursued; that it is your part to woo, to persuade, to prevail, to overcome. Fool: it is you who are the pursued, the marked down quarry, the destined prey. You need not sit looking longingly at the bait through the wires of the trap: the door is open, and will remain so until it shuts behind you for ever.
Octavius. I wish I could believe that, vilely as you put it.
Tanner. Why, man, what other work has she in life but to get a husband? It is a woman’s business to get married as soon as possible, and a man’s to keep unmarried as long as he can. You have your poems and your tragedies to work at: Ann has nothing.
Octavius. I cannot write without inspiration. And nobody can give me that except Ann.
Tanner. Well, hadn’t you better get it from her at a safe distance? Petrarch didn’t see half as much of Laura, nor Dante of Beatrice, as you see of Ann now; and yet they wrote first-rate poetry — at least so I’m told. They never exposed their idolatry to the test of domestic familiarity; and it lasted them to their graves. Marry Ann and at the end of a week you’ll find no more inspiration than in a plate of muffins.
Octavius. You think I shall tire of her.
Tanner. Not at all: you don’t get tired of muffins. But you don’t find inspiration in them; and you won’t in her when she ceases to be a poet’s dream and becomes a solid eleven stone wife. You’ll be forced to dream about somebody else; and then there will be a row.
Octavius. This sort of talk is no use, Jack. You don’t understand. You have never been in love.
Tanner. I! I have never been out of it. Why, I am in love even with Ann. But I am neither the slave of love nor its dupe. Go to the bee, thou poet: consider her ways and be wise. By Heaven, Tavy, if women could do without our work, and we ate their children’s bread instead of making it, they would kill us as the spider kills her mate or as the bees kill the drone. And they would be right if we were good for nothing but love.
Octavius. Ah, if we were only good enough for Love! There is nothing like Love: there is nothing else but Love: without it the world would be a dream of sordid horror.
Tanner. And this — this is the man who asks me to give him the hand of my ward! Tavy: I believe we were changed in our cradles, and that you are the real descendant of Don Juan.
Octavius. I beg you not to say anything like that to Ann.
Tanner. Don’t be afraid. She has marked you for her own; and nothing will stop her now. You are doomed. [Straker comes back with a newspaper]. Here comes the New Man, demoralizing himself with a halfpenny paper as usual.
Straker. Now, would you believe it: Mr Robinson, when we’re out motoring we take in two papers, the Times for him, the Leader or the Echo for me. And do you think I ever see my paper? Not much. He grabs the Leader and leaves me to stodge myself with his Times.
Octavius. Are there no winners in the Times?
Tanner. Enry don’t old with bettin, Tavy. Motor records are his weakness. What’s the latest?
Straker. Paris to Biskra at forty mile an hour average, not countin the Mediterranean.
Tanner. How many killed?
Straker. Two silly sheep. What does it matter? Sheep don’t cost such a lot: they were glad to ave the price without the trouble o sellin em to the butcher. All the same, d’y’see, there’ll be a clamor agin it presently; and then the French Government’ll stop it; an our chance will be gone see? That what makes me fairly mad: Mr Tanner won’t do a good run while he can.
Tanner. Tavy: do you remember my uncle James?
Octavius. Yes. Why?
Tanner. Uncle James had a first rate cook: he couldn’t digest anything except what she cooked. Well, the poor man was shy and hated society. But his cook was proud of her skill, and wanted to serve up dinners to princes and ambassadors. To prevent her from leaving him, that poor old man had to give a big dinner twice a month, and suffer agonies of awkwardness. Now here am I; and here is this chap Enry Straker, the New Man. I loathe travelling; but I rather like Enry. He cares for nothing but tearing along in a leather coat and goggles, with two inches of dust all over him, at sixty miles an hour and the risk of his life and mine. Except, of course, when he is lying on his back in the mud under the machine trying to find out where it has given way. Well, if I don’t give him a thousand mile run at least once a fortnight I shall lose him. He will give me the sack and go to some American millionaire; and I shall have to put up with a nice respectful groom-gardener-amateur, who will touch his hat and know his place. I am Enry’s slave, just as Uncle James was his cook’s slave.
Straker. [exasperated] Garn! I wish I had a car that would go as fast as you can talk, Mr Tanner. What I say is that you lose money by a motor car unless you keep it workin. Might as well ave a pram and a nussmaid to wheel you in it as that car and me if you don’t git the last inch out of us both.
Tanner. [soothingly] All right, Henry, all right. We’ll go out for half an hour presently.
Straker. [in disgust] Arf an ahr! [He returns to his machine; seats himself in it; and turns up a fresh page of his paper in search of more news].
Octavius. Oh, that reminds me. I have a note for you from Rhoda. [He gives Tanner a note].
Tanner. [opening it] I rather think Rhoda is heading for a row with Ann. As a rule there is only one person an English girl hates more than she hates her mother; and that’s her eldest sister. But Rhoda positively prefers her mother to Ann. She — [indignantly] Oh, I say!
Octavius. What’s the matter?
Tanner. Rhoda was to have come with me for a ride in the motor car. She says Ann has forbidden her to go out with me.
Straker suddenly begins whistling his favorite air with remarkable deliberation. Surprised by this burst of larklike melody, and jarred by a sardonic note in its cheerfulness, they turn and look inquiringly at him. But he is busy with his paper; and nothing comes of their movement.
Octavius. [recovering himself] Does she give any reason?
Tanner. Reason! An insult is not a reason. Ann forbids her to be alone with me on any occasion. Says I am not a fit person for a young girl to be with. What do you think of your paragon now?
Octavius. You must remember that she has a very heavy responsibility now that her father is dead. Mrs Whitefield is too weak to control Rhoda.
Tanner. [staring at him] In short, you agree with Ann.
Octavius. No; but I think I understand her. You must admit that your views are hardly suited for the formation of a young girl’s mind and character.
Tanner. I admit nothing of the sort. I admit that the formation of a young lady’s mind and character usually consists in telling her lies; but I object to the particular lie that I am in the habit of abusing the confidence of girls.
Octavius. Ann doesn’t say that, Jack.
Tanner. What else does she mean?
Straker. [catching sight of Ann coming from the house] Miss Whitefield, gentlemen. [He dismounts and strolls away down the avenue with the air of a man who knows he is no longer wanted].
Ann. [coming between Octavius and Tanner]. Good morning, Jack. I have come to tell you that poor Rhoda has got one of her headaches and cannot go out with you today in the car. It is a cruel disappointment to her, poor child!
Tanner. What do you say now, Tavy.
Octavius. Surely you cannot misunderstand, Jack. Ann is showing you the kindest consideration, even at the cost of deceiving you.
Ann. What do you mean?
Tanner. Would you like to cure Rhoda’s headache, Ann?
Ann. Of course.
Tanner. Then tell her what you said just now; and add that you arrived about two minutes after I had received her letter and read it.
Ann. Rhoda has written to you!
Tanner. With full particulars.
Octavius. Never mind him, Ann. You were right, quite right. Ann was only doing her duty, Jack; and you know it. Doing it in the kindest way, too.
Ann. [going to Octavius] How kind you are, Tavy! How helpful! How well you understand!
Tanner. Ay: tighten the coils. You love her, Tavy, don’t you?
Octavius. She knows I do.
Ann. Hush. For shame, Tavy!
Tanner. Oh, I give you leave. I am your guardian; and I commit you to Tavy’s care for the next hour.
Ann. No, Jack. I must speak to you about Rhoda. Ricky: will you go back to the house and entertain your American friend? He’s rather on Mamma’s hands so early in the morning. She wants to finish her housekeeping.
Octavius. I fly, dearest Ann [he kisses her hand].
Ann. [tenderly] Ricky Ticky Tavy!
He looks at her with an eloquent blush, and runs off.
Tanner. [bluntly] Now look here, Ann. This time you’ve landed yourself; and if Tavy were not in love with you past all salvation he’d have found out what an incorrigible liar you are.
Ann. You misunderstand, Jack. I didn’t dare tell Tavy the truth.
Tanner. No: your daring is generally in the opposite direction. What the devil do you mean by telling Rhoda that I am too vicious to associate with her? How can I ever have any human or decent relations with her again, now that you have poisoned her mind in that abominable way?
Ann. I know you are incapable of behaving badly.
Tanner. Then why did you lie to her?
Ann. I had to.
Tanner. Had to!
Ann. Mother made me.
Tanner. [his eye flashing] Ha! I might have known it. The mother! Always the mother!
Ann. It was that dreadful book of yours. You know how timid mother is. All timid women are conventional: we must be conventional, Jack, or we are so cruelly, so vilely misunderstood. Even you, who are a man, cannot say what you think without being misunderstood and vilified — yes: I admit it: I have had to vilify you. Do you want to have poor Rhoda misunderstood and vilified to the same way? Would it be right for mother to let her expose herself to such treatment before she is old enough to judge for herself?
Tanner. In short, the way to avoid misunderstanding is for everybody to lie and slander and insinuate and pretend as hard as they can. That is what obeying your mother comes to.
Ann. I love my mother, Jack.
Tanner. [working himself up into a sociological rage] Is that any reason why you are not to call your soul your own? Oh, I protest against this vile abjection of youth to age! look at fashionable society as you know it. What does it pretend to be? An exquisite dance of nymphs. What is it? A horrible procession of wretched girls, each in the claws of a cynical, cunning, avaricious, disillusioned, ignorantly experienced, foul-minded old woman whom she calls mother, and whose duty it is to corrupt her mind and sell her to the highest bidder. Why do these unhappy slaves marry anybody, however old and vile, sooner than not marry at all? Because marriage is their only means of escape from these decrepit fiends who hide their selfish ambitions, their jealous hatreds of the young rivals who have supplanted them, under the mask of maternal duty and family affection. Such things are abominable: the voice of nature proclaims for the daughter a father’s care and for the son a mother’s. The law for father and son and mother and daughter is not the law of love: it is the law of revolution, of emancipation, of final supersession of the old and worn-out by the young and capable. I tell you, the first duty of manhood and womanhood is a Declaration of Independence: the man who pleads his father’s authority is no man: the woman who pleads her mother’s authority is unfit to bear citizens to a free people.
Ann. [watching him with quiet curiosity] I suppose you will go in seriously for politics some day, Jack.
Tanner. [heavily let down] Eh? What? Wh —? [Collecting his scattered wits] What has that got to do with what I have been saying?
Ann. You talk so well.
Tanner. Talk! Talk! It means nothing to you but talk. Well, go back to your mother, and help her to poison Rhoda’s imagination as she has poisoned yours. It is the tame elephants who enjoy capturing the wild ones.
Ann. I am getting on. Yesterday I was a boa constrictor: today I am an elephant.
Tanner. Yes. So pack your trunk and begone; I have no more to say to you.
Ann. You are so utterly unreasonable and impracticable. What can I do?
Tanner. Do! Break your chains. Go your way according to your own conscience and not according to your mother’s. Get your mind clean and vigorous; and learn to enjoy a fast ride in a motor car instead of seeing nothing in it but an excuse for a detestable intrigue. Come with me to Marseilles and across to Algiers and to Biskra, at sixty miles an hour. Come right down to the Cape if you like. That will be a Declaration of Independence with a vengeance. You can write a book about it afterwards. That will finish your mother and make a woman of you.
Ann. [thoughtfully] I don’t think there would be any harm in that, Jack. You are my guardian: you stand in my father’s place, by his own wish. Nobody could say a word against our travelling together. It would be delightful: thank you a thousand times, Jack. I’ll come.
Tanner. [aghast] You’ll come!!!
Ann. Of course.
Tanner. But — [he stops, utterly appalled; then resumes feebly] No: look here, Ann: if there’s no harm in it there’s no point in doing it.
Ann. How absurd you are! You don’t want to compromise me, do you?
Tanner. Yes: that’s the whole sense of my proposal.
Ann. You are talking the greatest nonsense; and you know it. You would never do anything to hurt me.
Tanner. Well, if you don’t want to be compromised, don’t come.
Ann. [with simple earnestness] Yes, I will come, Jack, since you wish it. You are my guardian; and think we ought to see more of one another and come to know one another better. [Gratefully] It’s very thoughtful and very kind of you, Jack, to offer me this lovely holiday, especially after what I said about Rhoda. You really are good — much better than you think. When do we start?
Tanner. But —
The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Mrs Whitefield from the house. She is accompanied by the American gentleman, and followed by Ramsden and Octavius.
Hector Malone is an Eastern American; but he is not at all ashamed of his nationality. This makes English people of fashion think well of him, as of a young fellow who is manly enough to confess to an obvious disadvantage without any attempt to conceal or extenuate it. They feel that he ought not to be made to suffer for what is clearly not his fault, and make a point of being specially kind to him. His chivalrous manners to women, and his elevated moral sentiments, being both gratuitous and unusual, strike them as being a little unfortunate; and though they find his vein of easy humor rather amusing when it has ceased to puzzle them (as it does at first), they have had to make him understand that he really must not tell anecdotes unless they are strictly personal and scandalous, and also that oratory is an accomplishment which belongs to a cruder stage of civilization than that in which his migration has landed him. On these points Hector is not quite convinced: he still thinks that the British are apt to make merits of their stupidities, and to represent their various incapacities as points of good breeding. English life seems to him to suffer from a lack of edifying rhetoric (which he calls moral tone); English behavior to show a want of respect for womanhood; English pronunciation to fail very vulgarly in tackling such words as world, girl, bird, etc.; English society to be plain spoken to an extent which stretches occasionally to intolerable coarseness; and English intercourse to need enlivening by games and stories and other pastimes; so he does not feel called upon to acquire these defects after taking great paths to cultivate himself in a first rate manner before venturing across the Atlantic. To this culture he finds English people either totally indifferent as they very commonly are to all culture, or else politely evasive, the truth being that Hector’s culture is nothing but a state of saturation with our literary exports of thirty years ago, reimported by him to be unpacked at a moment’s notice and hurled at the head of English literature, science and art, at every conversational opportunity. The dismay set up by these sallies encourages him in his belief that he is helping to educate England. When he finds people chattering harmlessly about Anatole France and Nietzsche, he devastates them with Matthew Arnold, the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, and even Macaulay; and as he is devoutly religious at bottom, he first leads the unwary, by humorous irreverences, to wave popular theology out of account in discussing moral questions with him, and then scatters them in confusion by demanding whether the carrying out of his ideals of conduct was not the manifest object of God Almighty in creating honest men and pure women. The engaging freshness of his personality and the dumbfoundering staleness of his culture make it extremely difficult to decide whether he is worth knowing; for whilst his company is undeniably pleasant and enlivening, there is intellectually nothing new to be got out of him, especially as he despises politics, and is careful not to talk commercial shop, in which department he is probably much in advance of his English capitalist friends. He gets on best with romantic Christians of the amoristic sect: hence the friendship which has sprung up between him and Octavius.
In appearance Hector is a neatly built young man of twenty-four, with a short, smartly trimmed black beard, clear, well shaped eyes, and an ingratiating vivacity of expression. He is, from the fashionable point of view, faultlessly dressed. As he comes along the drive from the house with Mrs Whitefield he is sedulously making himself agreeable and entertaining, and thereby placing on her slender wit a burden it is unable to bear. An Englishman would let her alone, accepting boredom and indifference of their common lot; and the poor lady wants to be either let alone or let prattle about the things that interest her.
Ramsden strolls over to inspect the motor car. Octavius joins Hector.
Ann. [pouncing on her mother joyously] Oh, mamma, what do you think! Jack is going to take me to Nice in his motor car. Isn’t it lovely? I am the happiest person in London.
Tanner. [desperately] Mrs Whitefield objects. I am sure she objects. Doesn’t she, Ramsden?
Ramsden. I should think it very likely indeed.
Ann. You don’t object, do you, mother?
Mrs. Whitefield. I object! Why should I? I think it will do you good, Ann. [Trotting over to Tanner] I meant to ask you to take Rhoda out for a run occasionally: she is too much in the house; but it will do when you come back.
Tanner. Abyss beneath abyss of perfidy!
Ann. [hastily, to distract attention from this outburst] Oh, I forgot: you have not met Mr Malone. Mr Tanner, my guardian: Mr Hector Malone.
Hector. Pleased to meet you, Mr Tanner. I should like to suggest an extension of the travelling party to Nice, if I may.
Ann. Oh, we’re all coming. That’s understood, isn’t it?
Hector. I also am the modest possessor of a motor car. If Miss Robinson will allow me the privilege of taking her, my car is at her service.
Ann. [subduedly] Come, mother: we must leave them to talk over the arrangements. I must see to my travelling kit.
Mrs Whitefield looks bewildered; but Ann draws her discreetly away; and they disappear round the corner towards the house.
Hector. I think I may go so far as to say that I can depend on Miss Robinson’s consent.
Octavius. I’m afraid we must leave Violet behind, There are circumstances which make it impossible for her to come on such an expedition.
Hector. [amused and not at all convinced] Too American, eh? Must the young lady have a chaperone?
Octavius. It’s not that, Malone — at least not altogether.
Hector. Indeed! May I ask what other objection applies?
Tanner. [impatiently] Oh, tell him, tell him. We shall never be able to keep the secret unless everybody knows what it is. Mr Malone: if you go to Nice with Violet, you go with another man’s wife. She is married.
Hector. [thunderstruck] You don’t tell me so!
Tanner. We do. In confidence.
Ramsden. [with an air of importance, lest Malone should suspect a misalliance] Her marriage has not yet been made known: she desires that it shall not be mentioned for the present.
Hector. I shall respect the lady’s wishes. Would it be indiscreet to ask who her husband is, in case I should have an opportunity of consulting him about this trip?
Tanner. We don’t know who he is.
Hector. [retiring into his shell in a very marked manner] In that case, I have no more to say.
They become more embarrassed than ever.
Octavius. You must think this very strange.
Hector. A little singular. Pardon me for saving so.
Ramsden. [half apologetic, half huffy] The young lady was married secretly; and her husband has forbidden her, it seems, to declare his name. It is only right to tell you, since you are interested in Miss — er — in Violet.
Octavius. [sympathetically] I hope this is not a disappointment to you.
Hector. [softened, coming out of his shell again] Well it is a blow. I can hardly understand how a man can leave a wife in such a position. Surely it’s not customary. It’s not manly. It’s not considerate.
Octavius. We feel that, as you may imagine, pretty deeply.
Ramsden. [testily] It is some young fool who has not enough experience to know what mystifications of this kind lead to.
Hector. [with strong symptoms of moral repugnance] I hope so. A man need be very young and pretty foolish too to be excused for such conduct. You take a very lenient view, Mr Ramsden. Too lenient to my mind. Surely marriage should ennoble a man.
Tanner. [sardonically] Ha!
Hector. Am I to gather from that cacchination that you don’t agree with me, Mr Tanner?
Tanner. [drily] Get married and try. You may find it delightful for a while: you certainly won’t find it ennobling. The greatest common measure of a man and a woman is not necessarily greater than the man’s single measure.
Hector. Well, we think in America that a woman’s moral number is higher than a man’s, and that the purer nature of a woman lifts a man right out of himself, and makes him better than he was.
Octavius. [with conviction] So it does.
Tanner. No wonder American women prefer to live in Europe! It’s more comfortable than standing all their lives on an altar to be worshipped. Anyhow, Violet’s husband has not been ennobled. So what’s to be done?
Hector. [shaking his head] I can’t dismiss that man’s conduct as lightly as you do, Mr Tanner. However, I’ll say no more. Whoever he is, he’s Miss Robinson’s husband; and I should be glad for her sake to think better of him.
Octavius. [touched; for he divines a secret sorrow] I’m very sorry, Malone. Very sorry.
Hector. [gratefully] You’re a good fellow, Robinson, Thank you.
Tanner. Talk about something else. Violet’s coming from the house.
Hector. I should esteem it a very great favor, men, if you would take the opportunity to let me have a few words with the lady alone. I shall have to cry off this trip; and it’s rather a delicate —
Ramsden. [glad to escape] Say no more. Come Tanner, Come, Tavy. [He strolls away into the park with Octavius and Tanner, past the motor car].
Violet comes down the avenue to Hector.
Violet. Are they looking?
She kisses him.
Violet. Have you been telling lies for my sake?
Hector. Lying! Lying hardly describes it. I overdo it. I get carried away in an ecstasy of mendacity. Violet: I wish you’d let me own up.
Violet. [instantly becoming serious and resolute] No, no. Hector: you promised me not to.
Hector. I’ll keep my promise until you release me from it. But I feel mean, lying to those men, and denying my wife. Just dastardly.
Violet. I wish your father were not so unreasonable.
Hector. He’s not unreasonable. He’s right from his point of view. He has a prejudice against the English middle class.
Violet. It’s too ridiculous. You know how I dislike saying such things to you, Hector; but if I were to — oh, well, no matter.
Hector. I know. If you were to marry the son of an English manufacturer of office furniture, your friends would consider it a misalliance. And here’s my silly old dad, who is the biggest office furniture man in the world, would show me the door for marrying the most perfect lady in England merely because she has no handle to her name. Of course it’s just absurd. But I tell you, Violet, I don’t like deceiving him. I feel as if I was stealing his money. Why won’t you let me own up?
Violet. We can’t afford it. You can be as romantic as you please about love, Hector; but you mustn’t be romantic about money.
Hector. [divided between his uxoriousness and his habitual elevation of moral sentiment] That’s very English. [Appealing to her impulsively] Violet: Dad’s bound to find us out some day.
Violet. Oh yes, later on of course. But don’t let’s go over this every time we meet, dear. You promised —
Hector. All right, all right, I—
Violet. [not to be silenced] It is I and not you who suffer by this concealment; and as to facing a struggle and poverty and all that sort of thing I simply will not do it. It’s too silly.
Hector. You shall not. I’ll sort of borrow the money from my dad until I get on my own feet; and then I can own up and pay up at the same time.
Violet. [alarmed and indignant] Do you mean to work? Do you want to spoil our marriage?
Hector. Well, I don’t mean to let marriage spoil my character. Your friend Mr Tanner has got the laugh on me a bit already about that; and —
Violet. The beast! I hate Jack Tanner.
Hector. [magnanimously] Oh, he’s all right: he only needs the love of a good woman to ennoble him. Besides, he’s proposed a motoring trip to Nice; and I’m going to take you.
Violet. How jolly!
Hector. Yes; but how are we going to manage? You see, they’ve warned me off going with you, so to speak. They’ve told me in confidence that you’re married. That’s just the most overwhelming confidence I’ve ever been honored with.
Tanner returns with Straker, who goes to his car.
Tanner. Your car is a great success, Mr Malone. Your engineer is showing it off to Mr Ramsden.
Hector. [eagerly — forgetting himself] Let’s come, Vi.
Violet. [coldly, warning him with her eyes] I beg your pardon, Mr Malone, I did not quite catch —
Hector. [recollecting himself] I ask to be allowed the pleasure of showing you my little American steam car, Miss Robinson.
Violet. I shall be very pleased. [They go off together down the avenue].
Tanner. About this trip, Straker.
Straker. [preoccupied with the car] Yes?
Tanner. Miss Whitefield is supposed to be coming with me.
Straker. So I gather.
Tanner. Mr Robinson is to be one of the party.
Tanner. Well, if you can manage so as to be a good deal occupied with me, and leave Mr Robinson a good deal occupied with Miss Whitefield, he will be deeply grateful to you.
Straker. [looking round at him] Evidently.
Tanner. “Evidently!” Your grandfather would have simply winked.
Straker. My grandfather would have touched his at.
Tanner. And I should have given your good nice respectful grandfather a sovereign.
Straker. Five shillins, more likely. [He leaves the car and approaches Tanner]. What about the lady’s views?
Tanner. She is just as willing to be left to Mr Robinson as Mr Robinson is to be left to her. [Straker looks at his principal with cool scepticism; then turns to the car whistling his favorite air]. Stop that aggravating noise. What do you mean by it? [Straker calmly resumes the melody and finishes it. Tanner politely hears it out before he again addresses Straker, this time with elaborate seriousness]. Enry: I have ever been a warm advocate of the spread of music among the masses; but I object to your obliging the company whenever Miss Whitefield’s name is mentioned. You did it this morning, too.
Straker. [obstinately] It’s not a bit o use. Mr Robinson may as well give it up first as last.
Straker. Garn! You know why. Course it’s not my business; but you needn’t start kiddin me about it.
Tanner. I am not kidding. I don’t know why.
Straker. [Cheerfully sulky] Oh, very well. All right. It ain’t my business.
Tanner. [impressively] I trust, Enry, that, as between employer and engineer, I shall always know how to keep my proper distance, and not intrude my private affairs on you. Even our business arrangements are subject to the approval of your Trade Union. But don’t abuse your advantages. Let me remind you that Voltaire said that what was too silly to be said could be sung.
Straker. It wasn’t Voltaire: it was Bow Mar Shay.
Tanner. I stand corrected: Beaumarchais of course. Now you seem to think that what is too delicate to be said can be whistled. Unfortunately your whistling, though melodious, is unintelligible. Come! there’s nobody listening: neither my genteel relatives nor the secretary of your confounded Union. As man to man, Enry, why do you think that my friend has no chance with Miss Whitefield?
Straker. Cause she’s arter summun else.
Tanner. Bosh! who else?
Straker. Mean to tell me you didn’t know? Oh, come, Mr Tanner!
Tanner. [in fierce earnest] Are you playing the fool, or do you mean it?
Straker. [with a flash of temper] I’m not playin no fool. [More coolly] Why, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. If you ain’t spotted that, you don’t know much about these sort of things. [Serene again] Ex-cuse me, you know, Mr Tanner; but you asked me as man to man; and I told you as man to man.
Tanner. [wildly appealing to the heavens] Then I— I am the bee, the spider, the marked down victim, the destined prey.
Straker. I dunno about the bee and the spider. But the marked down victim, that’s what you are and no mistake; and a jolly good job for you, too, I should say.
Tanner. [momentously] Henry Straker: the moment of your life has arrived.
Straker. What d’y’mean?
Tanner. That record to Biskra.
Straker. [eagerly] Yes?
Tanner. Break it.
Straker. [rising to the height of his destiny] D’y’mean it?
Tanner. I do.
Tanner. Now. Is that machine ready to start?
Straker. [quailing] But you can’t —
Tanner. [cutting him short by getting into the car] Off we go. First to the bank for money; then to my rooms for my kit; then to your rooms for your kit; then break the record from London to Dover or Folkestone; then across the channel and away like mad to Marseilles, Gibraltar, Genoa, any port from which we can sail to a Mahometan country where men are protected from women.
Straker. Garn! you’re kiddin.
Tanner. [resolutely] Stay behind then. If you won’t come I’ll do it alone. [He starts the motor].
Straker. [running after him] Here! Mister! arf a mo! steady on! [he scrambles in as the car plunges forward].
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13