TANNER. You must take me quite seriously. I am your guardian; and it is my duty to improve your mind.
ANN. The love compact is over, then, is it? I suppose you grew tired of me?
TANNER. No; but the moral passion made our childish relations impossible. A jealous sense of my new individuality arose in me.
ANN. You hated to be treated as a boy any longer. Poor Jack!
TANNER. Yes, because to be treated as a boy was to be taken on the old footing. I had become a new person; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor: he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.
ANN. You became frightfully self-conscious.
TANNER. When you go to heaven, Ann, you will be frightfully conscious of your wings for the first year or so. When you meet your relatives there, and they persist in treating you as if you were still a mortal, you will not be able to bear them. You will try to get into a circle which has never known you except as an angel.
ANN. So it was only your vanity that made you run away from us after all?
TANNER. Yes, only my vanity, as you call it.
ANN. You need not have kept away from ME on that account.
TANNER. From you above all others. You fought harder than anybody against my emancipation.
ANN. [earnestly] Oh, how wrong you are! I would have done anything for you.
TANNER. Anything except let me get loose from you. Even then you had acquired by instinct that damnable woman's trick of heaping obligations on a man, of placing yourself so entirely and helplessly at his mercy that at last he dare not take a step without running to you for leave. I know a poor wretch whose one desire in life is to run away from his wife. She prevents him by threatening to throw herself in front of the engine of the train he leaves her in. That is what all women do. If we try to go where you do not want us to go there is no law to prevent us, but when we take the first step your breasts are under our foot as it descends: your bodies are under our wheels as we start. No woman shall ever enslave me in that way.
ANN. But, Jack, you cannot get through life without considering other people a little.
TANNER. Ay; but what other people? It is this consideration of other people or rather this cowardly fear of them which we call consideration that makes us the sentimental slaves we are. To consider you, as you call it, is to substitute your will for my own. How if it be a baser will than mine? Are women taught better than men or worse? Are mobs of voters taught better than statesmen or worse? Worse, of course, in both cases. And then what sort of world are you going to get, with its public men considering its voting mobs, and its private men considering their wives? What does Church and State mean nowadays? The Woman and the Ratepayer.
ANN. [placidly] I am so glad you understand politics, Jack: it will be most useful to you if you go into parliament [he collapses like a pricked bladder]. But I am sorry you thought my influence a bad one.
TANNER. I don't say it was a bad one. But bad or good, I didn't choose to be cut to your measure. And I won't be cut to it.
ANN. Nobody wants you to, Jack. I assure you — really on my word — I don't mind your queer opinions one little bit. You know we have all been brought up to have advanced opinions. Why do you persist in thinking me so narrow minded?
TANNER. That's the danger of it. I know you don't mind, because you've found out that it doesn't matter. The boa constrictor doesn't mind the opinions of a stag one little bit when once she has got her coils round it.
ANN. [rising in sudden enlightenment] O-o-o-o-oh! NOW I understand why you warned Tavy that I am a boa constrictor. Granny told me. [She laughs and throws her boa around her neck]. Doesn't it feel nice and soft, Jack?
TANNER. [in the toils] You scandalous woman, will you throw away even your hypocrisy?
ANN. I am never hypocritical with you, Jack. Are you angry? [She withdraws the boa and throws it on a chair]. Perhaps I shouldn't have done that.
TANNER. [contemptuously] Pooh, prudery! Why should you not, if it amuses you?
ANN. [Shyly] Well, because — because I suppose what you really meant by the boa constrictor was THIS [she puts her arms round his neck].
TANNER. [Staring at her] Magnificent audacity! [She laughs and pats his cheeks]. Now just to think that if I mentioned this episode not a soul would believe me except the people who would cut me for telling, whilst if you accused me of it nobody would believe my denial.
ANN. [taking her arms away with perfect dignity] You are incorrigible, Jack. But you should not jest about our affection for one another. Nobody could possibly misunderstand it. YOU do not misunderstand it, I hope.
TANNER. My blood interprets for me, Ann. Poor Ricky Tiky Tavy!
ANN. [looking quickly at him as if this were a new light] Surely you are not so absurd as to be jealous of Tavy.
TANNER. Jealous! Why should I be? But I don't wonder at your grip of him. I feel the coils tightening round my very self, though you are only playing with me.
ANN. Do you think I have designs on Tavy?
TANNER. I know you have.
ANN. [earnestly] Take care, Jack. You may make Tavy very happy if you mislead him about me.
TANNER. Never fear: he will not escape you.
ANN. I wonder are you really a clever man!
TANNER. Why this sudden misgiving on the subject?
ANN. You seem to understand all the things I don't understand; but you are a perfect baby in the things I do understand.
TANNER. I understand how Tavy feels for you, Ann; you may depend on that, at all events.
ANN. And you think you understand how I feel for Tavy, don't you?
TANNER. I know only too well what is going to happen to poor Tavy.
ANN. I should laugh at you, Jack, if it were not for poor papa's death. Mind! Tavy will be very unhappy.
TANNER. Yes; but he won't know it, poor devil. He is a thousand times too good for you. That's why he is going to make the mistake of his life about you.
ANN. I think men make more mistakes by being too clever than by being too good [she sits down, with a trace of contempt for the whole male sex in the elegant carriage of her shoulders].
TANNER. Oh, I know you don't care very much about Tavy. But there is always one who kisses and one who only allows the kiss. Tavy will kiss; and you will only turn the cheek. And you will throw him over if anybody better turns up.
ANN. [offended] You have no right to say such things, Jack. They are not true, and not delicate. If you and Tavy choose to be stupid about me, that is not my fault.
TANNER. [remorsefully] Forgive my brutalities, Ann. They are levelled at this wicked world, not at you. [She looks up at him, pleased and forgiving. He becomes cautious at once]. All the same, I wish Ramsden would come back. I never feel safe with you: there is a devilish charm — or no: not a charm, a subtle interest [she laughs]. Just so: you know it; and you triumph in it. Openly and shamelessly triumph in it!
ANN. What a shocking flirt you are, Jack!
TANNER. A flirt!! I!!
ANN. Yes, a flirt. You are always abusing and offending people, but you never really mean to let go your hold of them.
TANNER. I will ring the bell. This conversation has already gone further than I intended.
Ramsden and Octavius come back with Miss Ramsden, a hardheaded old maiden lady in a plain brown silk gown, with enough rings, chains and brooches to show that her plainness of dress is a matter of principle, not of poverty. She comes into the room very determinedly: the two men, perplexed and downcast, following her. Ann rises and goes eagerly to meet her. Tanner retreats to the wall between the busts and pretends to study the pictures. Ramsden goes to his table as usual; and Octavius clings to the neighborhood of Tanner.