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.