ANN. [watching him with quiet curiosity] I suppose you will go in seriously for politics some day, Jack.
TANNER. [heavily let down] Eh? What? Wh — ? [Collecting his scattered wits] What has that got to do with what I have been saying?
ANN. You talk so well.
TANNER. Talk! Talk! It means nothing to you but talk. Well, go back to your mother, and help her to poison Rhoda's imagination as she has poisoned yours. It is the tame elephants who enjoy capturing the wild ones.
ANN. I am getting on. Yesterday I was a boa constrictor: to-day I am an elephant.
TANNER. Yes. So pack your trunk and begone; I have no more to say to you.
ANN. You are so utterly unreasonable and impracticable. What can I do?
TANNER. Do! Break your chains. Go your way according to your own conscience and not according to your mother's. Get your mind clean and vigorous; and learn to enjoy a fast ride in a motor car instead of seeing nothing in it but an excuse for a detestable intrigue. Come with me to Marseilles and across to Algiers and to Biskra, at sixty miles an hour. Come right down to the Cape if you like. That will be a Declaration of Independence with a vengeance. You can write a book about it afterwards. That will finish your mother and make a woman of you.
ANN. [thoughtfully] I don't think there would be any harm in that, Jack. You are my guardian: you stand in my father's place, by his own wish. Nobody could say a word against our travelling together. It would be delightful: thank you a thousand times, Jack. I'll come.
TANNER. [aghast] You'll come!!!
ANN. Of course.
TANNER. But — [he stops, utterly appalled; then resumes feebly] No: look here, Ann: if there's no harm in it there's no point in doing it.
ANN. How absurd you are! You don't want to compromise me, do you?
TANNER. Yes: that's the whole sense of my proposal.
ANN. You are talking the greatest nonsense; and you know it. You would never do anything to hurt me.
TANNER. Well, if you don't want to be compromised, don't come.
ANN. [with simple earnestness] Yes, I will come, Jack, since you wish it. You are my guardian; and think we ought to see more of one another and come to know one another better. [Gratefully] It's very thoughtful and very kind of you, Jack, to offer me this lovely holiday, especially after what I said about Rhoda. You really are good — much better than you think. When do we start?
TANNER. But —
The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Mrs Whitefield from the house. She is accompanied by the American gentleman, and followed by Ramsden and Octavius.
Hector Malone is an Eastern American; but he is not at all ashamed of his nationality. This makes English people of fashion think well of him, as of a young fellow who is manly enough to confess to an obvious disadvantage without any attempt to conceal or extenuate it. They feel that he ought not to be made to suffer for what is clearly not his fault, and make a point of being specially kind to him. His chivalrous manners to women, and his elevated moral sentiments, being both gratuitous and unusual, strike them as being a little unfortunate; and though they find his vein of easy humor rather amusing when it has ceased to puzzle them (as it does at first), they have had to make him understand that he really must not tell anecdotes unless they are strictly personal and scandalous, and also that oratory is an accomplishment which belongs to a cruder stage of civilization than that in which his migration has landed him. On these points Hector is not quite convinced: he still thinks that the British are apt to make merits of their stupidities, and to represent their various incapacities as points of good breeding. English life seems to him to suffer from a lack of edifying rhetoric (which he calls moral tone); English behavior to show a want of respect for womanhood; English pronunciation to fail very vulgarly in tackling such words as world, girl, bird, etc.; English society to be plain spoken to an extent which stretches occasionally to intolerable coarseness; and English intercourse to need enlivening by games and stories and other pastimes; so he does not feel called upon to acquire these defects after taking great paths to cultivate himself in a first rate manner before venturing across the Atlantic. To this culture he finds English people either totally indifferent as they very commonly are to all culture, or else politely evasive, the truth being that Hector's culture is nothing but a state of saturation with our literary exports of thirty years ago, reimported by him to be unpacked at a moment's notice and hurled at the head of English literature, science and art, at every conversational opportunity. The dismay set up by these sallies encourages him in his belief that he is helping to educate England. When he finds people chattering harmlessly about Anatole France and Nietzsche, he devastates them with Matthew Arnold, the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, and even Macaulay; and as he is devoutly religious at bottom, he first leads the unwary, by humorous irreverences, to wave popular theology out of account in discussing moral questions with him, and then scatters them in confusion by demanding whether the carrying out of his ideals of conduct was not the manifest object of God Almighty in creating honest men and pure women. The engaging freshness of his personality and the dumbfoundering staleness of his culture make it extremely difficult to decide whether he is worth knowing; for whilst his company is undeniably pleasant and enlivening, there is intellectually nothing new to be got out of him, especially as he despises politics, and is careful not to talk commercial shop, in which department he is probably much in advance of his English capitalist friends. He gets on best with romantic Christians of the amoristic sect: hence the friendship which has sprung up between him and Octavius.
In appearance Hector is a neatly built young man of twenty-four, with a short, smartly trimmed black beard, clear, well shaped eyes, and an ingratiating vivacity of expression. He is, from the fashionable point of view, faultlessly dressed. As he comes along the drive from the house with Mrs Whitefield he is sedulously making himself agreeable and entertaining, and thereby placing on her slender wit a burden it is unable to bear. An Englishman would let her alone, accepting boredom and indifference of their common lot; and the poor lady wants to be either let alone or let prattle about the things that interest her.
Ramsden strolls over to inspect the motor car. Octavius joins Hector.
ANN. [pouncing on her mother joyously] Oh, mamma, what do you think! Jack is going to take me to Nice in his motor car. Isn't it lovely? I am the happiest person in London.
TANNER. [desperately] Mrs Whitefield objects. I am sure she objects. Doesn't she, Ramsden?
RAMSDEN. I should think it very likely indeed.
ANN. You don't object, do you, mother?
MRS WHITEFIELD. I object! Why should I? I think it will do you good, Ann. [Trotting over to Tanner] I meant to ask you to take Rhoda out for a run occasionally: she is too much in the house; but it will do when you come back.
TANNER. Abyss beneath abyss of perfidy!
ANN. [hastily, to distract attention from this outburst] Oh, I forgot: you have not met Mr Malone. Mr Tanner, my guardian: Mr Hector Malone.
HECTOR. Pleased to meet you, Mr Tanner. I should like to suggest an extension of the travelling party to Nice, if I may.
ANN. Oh, we're all coming. That's understood, isn't it?
HECTOR. I also am the modest possessor of a motor car. If Miss Robinson will allow me the privilege of taking her, my car is at her service.
ANN. [subduedly] Come, mother: we must leave them to talk over the arrangements. I must see to my travelling kit.
Mrs Whitefield looks bewildered; but Ann draws her discreetly away; and they disappear round the corner towards the house.
HECTOR. I think I may go so far as to say that I can depend on Miss Robinson's consent.
OCTAVIUS. I'm afraid we must leave Violet behind, There are circumstances which make it impossible for her to come on such an expedition.
HECTOR. [amused and not at all convinced] Too American, eh? Must the young lady have a chaperone?
OCTAVIUS. It's not that, Malone — at least not altogether.
HECTOR. Indeed! May I ask what other objection applies?
TANNER. [impatiently] Oh, tell him, tell him. We shall never be able to keep the secret unless everybody knows what it is. Mr Malone: if you go to Nice with Violet, you go with another man's wife. She is married.
HECTOR. [thunderstruck] You don't tell me so!
TANNER. We do. In confidence.
RAMSDEN. [with an air of importance, lest Malone should suspect a misalliance] Her marriage has not yet been made known: she desires that it shall not be mentioned for the present.
HECTOR. I shall respect the lady's wishes. Would it be indiscreet to ask who her husband is, in case I should have an opportunity of consulting him about this trip?
TANNER. We don't know who he is.
HECTOR. [retiring into his shell in a very marked manner] In that case, I have no more to say.
They become more embarrassed than ever.
OCTAVIUS. You must think this very strange.
HECTOR. A little singular. Pardon me for saving so.
RAMSDEN. [half apologetic, half huffy] The young lady was married secretly; and her husband has forbidden her, it seems, to declare his name. It is only right to tell you, since you are interested in Miss — er — in Violet.
OCTAVIUS. [sympathetically] I hope this is not a disappointment to you.
HECTOR. [softened, coming out of his shell again] Well it is a blow. I can hardly understand how a man can leave a wife in such a position. Surely it's not customary. It's not manly. It's not considerate.