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].