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.