OCTAVIUS. Of you! No, not for a moment.
TANNER. [drily] I think he suspects me just a little.
OCTAVIUS. Jack: you couldn't — you wouldn't —
TANNER. Why not?
OCTAVIUS. [appalled] Why not!
TANNER. Oh, well, I'll tell you why not. First, you would feel bound to quarrel with me. Second, Violet doesn't like me. Third, if I had the honor of being the father of Violet's child, I should boast of it instead of denying it. So be easy: our Friendship is not in danger.
OCTAVIUS. I should have put away the suspicion with horror if only you would think and feel naturally about it. I beg your pardon.
TANNER. MY pardon! nonsense! And now let's sit down and have a family council. [He sits down. The rest follow his example, more or less under protest]. Violet is going to do the State a service; consequently she must be packed abroad like a criminal until it's over. What's happening upstairs?
ANN. Violet is in the housekeeper's room — by herself, of course.
TANNER. Why not in the drawingroom?
ANN. Don't be absurd, Jack. Miss Ramsden is in the drawingroom with my mother, considering what to do.
TANNER. Oh! the housekeeper's room is the penitentiary, I suppose; and the prisoner is waiting to be brought before her judges. The old cats!
ANN. Oh, Jack!
RAMSDEN. You are at present a guest beneath the roof of one of the old cats, sir. My sister is the mistress of this house.
TANNER. She would put me in the housekeeper's room, too, if she dared, Ramsden. However, I withdraw cats. Cats would have more sense. Ann: as your guardian, I order you to go to Violet at once and be particularly kind to her.
ANN. I have seen her, Jack. And I am sorry to say I am afraid she is going to be rather obstinate about going abroad. I think Tavy ought to speak to her about it.
OCTAVIUS. How can I speak to her about such a thing [he breaks down]?
ANN. Don't break down, Ricky. Try to bear it for all our sakes.
RAMSDEN. Life is not all plays and poems, Octavius. Come! face it like a man.
TANNER. [chafing again] Poor dear brother! Poor dear friends of the family! Poor dear Tabbies and Grimalkins. Poor dear everybody except the woman who is going to risk her life to create another life! Tavy: don't you be a selfish ass. Away with you and talk to Violet; and bring her down here if she cares to come. [Octavius rises]. Tell her we'll stand by her.
RAMSDEN. [rising] No, sir —
TANNER. [rising also and interrupting him] Oh, we understand: it's against your conscience; but still you'll do it.
OCTAVIUS. I assure you all, on my word, I never meant to be selfish. It's so hard to know what to do when one wishes earnestly to do right.
TANNER. My dear Tavy, your pious English habit of regarding the world as a moral gymnasium built expressly to strengthen your character in, occasionally leads you to think about your own confounded principles when you should be thinking about other people's necessities. The need of the present hour is a happy mother and a healthy baby. Bend your energies on that; and you will see your way clearly enough.
Octavius, much perplexed, goes out.
RAMSDEN. [facing Tanner impressively] And Morality, sir? What is to become of that?
TANNER. Meaning a weeping Magdalen and an innocent child branded with her shame. Not in our circle, thank you. Morality can go to its father the devil.
RAMSDEN. I thought so, sir. Morality sent to the devil to please our libertines, male and female. That is to be the future of England, is it?
TANNER. Oh, England will survive your disapproval. Meanwhile, I understand that you agree with me as to the practical course we are to take?
RAMSDEN. Not in your spirit sir. Not for your reasons.
TANNER. You can explain that if anybody calls you to account, here or hereafter. [He turns away, and plants himself in front of Mr Herbert Spencer, at whom he stares gloomily].
ANN. [rising and coming to Ramsden] Granny: hadn't you better go up to the drawingroom and tell them what we intend to do?
RAMSDEN. [looking pointedly at Tanner] I hardly like to leave you alone with this gentleman. Will you not come with me?
ANN. Miss Ramsden would not like to speak about it before me, Granny. I ought not to be present.
RAMSDEN. You are right: I should have thought of that. You are a good girl, Annie.
He pats her on the shoulder. She looks up at him with beaming eyes and he goes out, much moved. Having disposed of him, she looks at Tanner. His back being turned to her, she gives a moment's attention to her personal appearance, then softly goes to him and speaks almost into his ear.
ANN. Jack [he turns with a start]: are you glad that you are my guardian? You don't mind being made responsible for me, I hope.
TANNER. The latest addition to your collection of scapegoats, eh?
ANN. Oh, that stupid old joke of yours about me! Do please drop it. Why do you say things that you know must pain me? I do my best to please you, Jack: I suppose I may tell you so now that you are my guardian. You will make me so unhappy if you refuse to be friends with me.
TANNER. [studying her as gloomily as he studied the dust] You need not go begging for my regard. How unreal our moral judgments are! You seem to me to have absolutely no conscience — only hypocrisy; and you can't see the difference — yet there is a sort of fascination about you. I always attend to you, somehow. I should miss you if I lost you.
ANN. [tranquilly slipping her arm into his and walking about with him] But isn't that only natural, Jack? We have known each other since we were children. Do you remember?
TANNER. [abruptly breaking loose] Stop! I remember EVERYTHING.
ANN. Oh, I daresay we were often very silly; but —
TANNER. I won't have it, Ann. I am no more that schoolboy now than I am the dotard of ninety I shall grow into if I live long enough. It is over: let me forget it.
ANN. Wasn't it a happy time? [She attempts to take his arm again].
TANNER. Sit down and behave yourself. [He makes her sit down in the chair next the writing table]. No doubt it was a happy time for you. You were a good girl and never compromised yourself. And yet the wickedest child that ever was slapped could hardly have had a better time. I can understand the success with which you bullied the other girls: your virtue imposed on them. But tell me this: did you ever know a good boy?
ANN. Of course. All boys are foolish sometimes; but Tavy was always a really good boy.
TANNER. [struck by this] Yes: you're right. For some reason you never tempted Tavy.
ANN. Tempted! Jack!
TANNER. Yes, my dear Lady Mephistopheles, tempted. You were insatiably curious as to what a boy might be capable of, and diabolically clever at getting through his guard and surprising his inmost secrets.
ANN. What nonsense! All because you used to tell me long stories of the wicked things you had done — silly boys tricks! And you call such things inmost secrets: Boys' secrets are just like men's; and you know what they are!
TANNER. [obstinately] No I don't. What are they, pray?
ANN. Why, the things they tell everybody, of course.
TANNER. Now I swear I told you things I told no one else. You lured me into a compact by which we were to have no secrets from one another. We were to tell one another everything, I didn't notice that you never told me anything.
ANN. You didn't want to talk about me, Jack. You wanted to talk about yourself.
TANNER. Ah, true, horribly true. But what a devil of a child you must have been to know that weakness and to play on it for the satisfaction of your own curiosity! I wanted to brag to you, to make myself interesting. And I found myself doing all sorts of mischievous things simply to have something to tell you about. I fought with boys I didn't hate; I lied about things I might just as well have told the truth about; I stole things I didn't want; I kissed little girls I didn't care for. It was all bravado: passionless and therefore unreal.
ANN. I never told of you, Jack.