TANNER. No; but if you had wanted to stop me you would have told of me. You wanted me to go on.
ANN. [flashing out] Oh, that's not true: it's NOT true, Jack. I never wanted you to do those dull, disappointing, brutal, stupid, vulgar things. I always hoped that it would be something really heroic at last. [Recovering herself] Excuse me, Jack; but the things you did were never a bit like the things I wanted you to do. They often gave me great uneasiness; but I could not tell on you and get you into trouble. And you were only a boy. I knew you would grow out of them. Perhaps I was wrong.
TANNER. [sardonically] Do not give way to remorse, Ann. At least nineteen twentieths of the exploits I confessed to you were pure lies. I soon noticed that you didn't like the true stories.
ANN. Of course I knew that some of the things couldn't have happened. But —
TANNER. You are going to remind me that some of the most disgraceful ones did.
ANN. [fondly, to his great terror] I don't want to remind you of anything. But I knew the people they happened to, and heard about them.
TANNER. Yes; but even the true stories were touched up for telling. A sensitive boy's humiliations may be very good fun for ordinary thickskinned grown-ups; but to the boy himself they are so acute, so ignominious, that he cannot confess them — cannot but deny them passionately. However, perhaps it was as well for me that I romanced a bit; for, on the one occasion when I told you the truth, you threatened to tell of me.
ANN. Oh, never. Never once.
TANNER. Yes, you did. Do you remember a dark-eyed girl named Rachel Rosetree? [Ann's brows contract for an instant involuntarily]. I got up a love affair with her; and we met one night in the garden and walked about very uncomfortably with our arms round one another, and kissed at parting, and were most conscientiously romantic. If that love affair had gone on, it would have bored me to death; but it didn't go on; for the next thing that happened was that Rachel cut me because she found out that I had told you. How did she find it out? From you. You went to her and held the guilty secret over her head, leading her a life of abject terror and humiliation by threatening to tell on her.
ANN. And a very good thing for her, too. It was my duty to stop her misconduct; and she is thankful to me for it now.
TANNER. Is she?
ANN. She ought to be, at all events.
TANNER. It was not your duty to stop my misconduct, I suppose.
ANN. I did stop it by stopping her.
TANNER. Are you sure of that? You stopped my telling you about my adventures; but how do you know that you stopped the adventures?
ANN. Do you mean to say that you went on in the same way with other girls?
TANNER. No. I had enough of that sort of romantic tomfoolery with Rachel.
ANN. [unconvinced] Then why did you break off our confidences and become quite strange to me?
TANNER. [enigmatically] It happened just then that I got something that I wanted to keep all to myself instead of sharing it with you.
ANN. I am sure I shouldn't have asked for any of it if you had grudged it.
TANNER. It wasn't a box of sweets, Ann. It was something you'd never have let me call my own.
ANN. [incredulously] What?
TANNER. My soul.
ANN. Oh, do be sensible, Jack. You know you're talking nonsense.
TANNER. The most solemn earnest, Ann. You didn't notice at that time that you were getting a soul too. But you were. It was not for nothing that you suddenly found you had a moral duty to chastise and reform Rachel. Up to that time you had traded pretty extensively in being a good child; but you had never set up a sense of duty to others. Well, I set one up too. Up to that time I had played the boy buccaneer with no more conscience than a fox in a poultry farm. But now I began to have scruples, to feel obligations, to find that veracity and honor were no longer goody-goody expressions in the mouths of grown up people, but compelling principles in myself.
ANN. [quietly] Yes, I suppose you're right. You were beginning to be a man, and I to be a woman.
TANNER. Are you sure it was not that we were beginning to be something more? What does the beginning of manhood and womanhood mean in most people's mouths? You know: it means the beginning of love. But love began long before that for me. Love played its part in the earliest dreams and follies and romances I can remember — may I say the earliest follies and romances we can remember? — though we did not understand it at the time. No: the change that came to me was the birth in me of moral passion; and I declare that according to my experience moral passion is the only real passion.
ANN. All passions ought to be moral, Jack.
TANNER. Ought! Do you think that anything is strong enough to impose oughts on a passion except a stronger passion still?
ANN. Our moral sense controls passion, Jack. Don't be stupid.
TANNER. Our moral sense! And is that not a passion? Is the devil to have all the passions as well as all the good times? If it were not a passion — if it were not the mightiest of the passions, all the other passions would sweep it away like a leaf before a hurricane. It is the birth of that passion that turns a child into a man.
ANN. There are other passions, Jack. Very strong ones.
TANNER. All the other passions were in me before; but they were idle and aimless — mere childish greedinesses and cruelties, curiosities and fancies, habits and superstitions, grotesque and ridiculous to the mature intelligence. When they suddenly began to shine like newly lit flames it was by no light of their own, but by the radiance of the dawning moral passion. That passion dignified them, gave them conscience and meaning, found them a mob of appetites and organized them into an army of purposes and principles. My soul was born of that passion.
ANN. I noticed that you got more sense. You were a dreadfully destructive boy before that.
TANNER. Destructive! Stuff! I was only mischievous.
ANN. Oh Jack, you were very destructive. You ruined all the young fir trees by chopping off their leaders with a wooden sword. You broke all the cucumber frames with your catapult. You set fire to the common: the police arrested Tavy for it because he ran away when he couldn't stop you. You —
TANNER. Pooh! pooh! pooh! these were battles, bombardments, stratagems to save our scalps from the red Indians. You have no imagination, Ann. I am ten times more destructive now than I was then. The moral passion has taken my destructiveness in hand and directed it to moral ends. I have become a reformer, and, like all reformers, an iconoclast. I no longer break cucumber frames and burn gorse bushes: I shatter creeds and demolish idols.
ANN. [bored] I am afraid I am too feminine to see any sense in destruction. Destruction can only destroy.
TANNER. Yes. That is why it is so useful. Construction cumbers the ground with institutions made by busybodies. Destruction clears it and gives us breathing space and liberty.
ANN. It's no use, Jack. No woman will agree with you there.
TANNER. That's because you confuse construction and destruction with creation and murder. They're quite different: I adore creation and abhor murder. Yes: I adore it in tree and flower, in bird and beast, even in you. [A flush of interest and delight suddenly clears the growing perplexity and boredom from her face]. It was the creative instinct that led you to attach me to you by bonds that have left their mark on me to this day. Yes, Ann: the old childish compact between us was an unconscious love compact.
TANNER. Oh, don't be alarmed —
ANN. I am not alarmed.
TANNER. [whimsically] Then you ought to be: where are your principles?
ANN. Jack: are you serious or are you not?
TANNER. Do you mean about the moral passion?
ANN. No, no; the other one. [Confused] Oh! you are so silly; one never knows how to take you.