TANNER. For Heaven's sake, Tavy, don't start him on political economy. He knows all about it; and we don't. You're only a poetic Socialist, Tavy: he's a scientific one.
STRAKER. [unperturbed] Yes. Well, this conversation is very improvin; but I've got to look after the car; and you two want to talk about your ladies. I know. [He retires to busy himself about the car; and presently saunters off towards the house].
TANNER. That's a very momentous social phenomenon.
OCTAVIUS. What is?
TANNER. Straker is. Here have we literary and cultured persons been for years setting up a cry of the New Woman whenever some unusually old fashioned female came along; and never noticing the advent of the New Man. Straker's the New Man.
OCTAVIUS. I see nothing new about him, except your way of chaffing him. But I don't want to talk about him just now. I want to speak to you about Ann.
TANNER. Straker knew even that. He learnt it at the Polytechnic, probably. Well, what about Ann? Have you proposed to her?
OCTAVIUS. [self-reproachfully] I was brute enough to do so last night.
TANNER. Brute enough! What do you mean?
OCTAVIUS. [dithyrambically] Jack: we men are all coarse. We never understand how exquisite a woman's sensibilities are. How could I have done such a thing!
TANNER. Done what, you maudlin idiot?
OCTAVIUS. Yes, I am an idiot. Jack: if you had heard her voice! if you had seen her tears! I have lain awake all night thinking of them. If she had reproached me, I could have borne it better.
TANNER. Tears! that's dangerous. What did she say?
OCTAVIUS. She asked me how she could think of anything now but her dear father. She stifled a sob — [he breaks down].
TANNER. [patting him on the back] Bear it like a man, Tavy, even if you feel it like an ass. It's the old game: she's not tired of playing with you yet.
OCTAVIUS. [impatiently] Oh, don't be a fool, Jack. Do you suppose this eternal shallow cynicism of yours has any real bearing on a nature like hers?
TANNER. Hm! Did she say anything else?
OCTAVIUS. Yes; and that is why I expose myself and her to your ridicule by telling you what passed.
TANNER. [remorsefully] No, dear Tavy, not ridicule, on my honor! However, no matter. Go on.
OCTAVIUS. Her sense of duty is so devout, so perfect, so —
TANNER. Yes: I know. Go on.
OCTAVIUS. You see, under this new arrangement, you and Ramsden are her guardians; and she considers that all her duty to her father is now transferred to you. She said she thought I ought to have spoken to you both in the first instance. Of course she is right; but somehow it seems rather absurd that I am to come to you and formally ask to be received as a suitor for your ward's hand.
TANNER. I am glad that love has not totally extinguished your sense of humor, Tavy.
OCTAVIUS. That answer won't satisfy her.
TANNER. My official answer is, obviously, Bless you, my children: may you be happy!
OCTAVIUS. I wish you would stop playing the fool about this. If it is not serious to you, it is to me, and to her.
TANNER. You know very well that she is as free to choose as you. She does not think so.
TANNER. Oh, doesn't she! just! However, say what you want me to do.
OCTAVIUS. I want you to tell her sincerely and earnestly what you think about me. I want you to tell her that you can trust her to me — that is, if you feel you can.
TANNER. I have no doubt that I can trust her to you. What worries me is the idea of trusting you to her. Have you read Maeterlinck's book about the bee?
OCTAVIUS. [keeping his temper with difficulty] I am not discussing literature at present.
TANNER. Be just a little patient with me. I am not discussing literature: the book about the bee is natural history. It's an awful lesson to mankind. You think that you are Ann's suitor; that you are the pursuer and she the pursued; that it is your part to woo, to persuade, to prevail, to overcome. Fool: it is you who are the pursued, the marked down quarry, the destined prey. You need not sit looking longingly at the bait through the wires of the trap: the door is open, and will remain so until it shuts behind you for ever.
OCTAVIUS. I wish I could believe that, vilely as you put it.
TANNER. Why, man, what other work has she in life but to get a husband? It is a woman's business to get married as soon as possible, and a man's to keep unmarried as long as he can. You have your poems and your tragedies to work at: Ann has nothing.
OCTAVIUS. I cannot write without inspiration. And nobody can give me that except Ann.
TANNER. Well, hadn't you better get it from her at a safe distance? Petrarch didn't see half as much of Laura, nor Dante of Beatrice, as you see of Ann now; and yet they wrote first-rate poetry — at least so I'm told. They never exposed their idolatry to the test of domestic familiarity; and it lasted them to their graves. Marry Ann and at the end of a week you'll find no more inspiration than in a plate of muffins.
OCTAVIUS. You think I shall tire of her.
TANNER. Not at all: you don't get tired of muffins. But you don't find inspiration in them; and you won't in her when she ceases to be a poet's dream and becomes a solid eleven stone wife. You'll be forced to dream about somebody else; and then there will be a row.
OCTAVIUS. This sort of talk is no use, Jack. You don't understand. You have never been in love.
TANNER. I! I have never been out of it. Why, I am in love even with Ann. But I am neither the slave of love nor its dupe. Go to the bee, thou poet: consider her ways and be wise. By Heaven, Tavy, if women could do without our work, and we ate their children's bread instead of making it, they would kill us as the spider kills her mate or as the bees kill the drone. And they would be right if we were good for nothing but love.
OCTAVIUS. Ah, if we were only good enough for Love! There is nothing like Love: there is nothing else but Love: without it the world would be a dream of sordid horror.
TANNER. And this — this is the man who asks me to give him the hand of my ward! Tavy: I believe we were changed in our cradles, and that you are the real descendant of Don Juan.
OCTAVIUS. I beg you not to say anything like that to Ann.
TANNER. Don't be afraid. She has marked you for her own; and nothing will stop her now. You are doomed. [Straker comes back with a newspaper]. Here comes the New Man, demoralizing himself with a halfpenny paper as usual.
STRAKER. Now, would you believe it: Mr Robinson, when we're out motoring we take in two papers, the Times for him, the Leader or the Echo for me. And do you think I ever see my paper? Not much. He grabs the Leader and leaves me to stodge myself with his Times.
OCTAVIUS. Are there no winners in the Times?
TANNER. Enry don't old with bettin, Tavy. Motor records are his weakness. What's the latest?
STRAKER. Paris to Biskra at forty mile an hour average, not countin the Mediterranean.