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.