TANNER. Yes: life is more complicated than we used to think. But what am I to do for you?
MRS WHITEFIELD. That's just what I want to tell you. Of course you'll marry Ann whether I like it myself or not —
TANNER. [starting] It seems to me that I shall presently be married to Ann whether I like it myself or not.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [peacefully] Oh, very likely you will: you know what she is when she has set her mind on anything. But don't put it on me: that's all I ask. Tavy has just let out that she's been saying that I am making her marry you; and the poor boy is breaking his heart about it; for he is in love with her himself, though what he sees in her so wonderful, goodness knows: I don't. It's no use telling Tavy that Ann puts things into people's heads by telling them that I want them when the thought of them never crossed my mind. It only sets Tavy against me. But you know better than that. So if you marry her, don't put the blame on me.
TANNER. [emphatically] I haven't the slightest intention of marrying her.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [slyly] She'd suit you better than Tavy. She'd meet her match in you, Jack. I'd like to see her meet her match.
TANNER. No man is a match for a woman, except with a poker and a pair of hobnailed boots. Not always even then. Anyhow, I can't take the poker to her. I should be a mere slave.
MRS WHITEFIELD. No: she's afraid of you. At all events, you would tell her the truth about herself. She wouldn't be able to slip out of it as she does with me.
TANNER. Everybody would call me a brute if I told Ann the truth about herself in terms of her own moral code. To begin with, Ann says things that are not strictly true.
MRS WHITEFIELD. I'm glad somebody sees she is not an angel.
TANNER. In short — to put it as a husband would put it when exasperated to the point of speaking out — she is a liar. And since she has plunged Tavy head over ears in love with her without any intention of marrying him, she is a coquette, according to the standard definition of a coquette as a woman who rouses passions she has no intention of gratifying. And as she has now reduced you to the point of being willing to sacrifice me at the altar for the mere satisfaction of getting me to call her a liar to her face, I may conclude that she is a bully as well. She can't bully men as she bullies women; so she habitually and unscrupulously uses her personal fascination to make men give her whatever she wants. That makes her almost something for which I know no polite name.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [in mild expostulation] Well, you can't expect perfection, Jack.
TANNER. I don't. But what annoys me is that Ann does. I know perfectly well that all this about her being a liar and a bully and a coquette and so forth is a trumped-up moral indictment which might be brought against anybody. We all lie; we all bully as much as we dare; we all bid for admiration without the least intention of earning it; we all get as much rent as we can out of our powers of fascination. If Ann would admit this I shouldn't quarrel with her. But she won't. If she has children she'll take advantage of their telling lies to amuse herself by whacking them. If another woman makes eyes at me, she'll refuse to know a coquette. She will do just what she likes herself whilst insisting on everybody else doing what the conventional code prescribes. In short, I can stand everything except her confounded hypocrisy. That's what beats me.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [carried away by the relief of hearing her own opinion so eloquently expressed] Oh, she is a hypocrite. She is: she is. Isn't she?
TANNER. Then why do you want to marry me to her?
MRS WHITEFIELD. [querulously] There now! put it on me, of course. I never thought of it until Tavy told me she said I did. But, you know, I'm very fond of Tavy: he's a sort of son to me; and I don't want him to be trampled on and made wretched.
TANNER. Whereas I don't matter, I suppose.
MRS WHITEFIELD. Oh, you are different, somehow: you are able to take care of yourself. You'd serve her out. And anyhow, she must marry somebody.
TANNER. Aha! there speaks the life instinct. You detest her; but you feel that you must get her married.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [rising, shocked] Do you mean that I detest my own daughter! Surely you don't believe me to be so wicked and unnatural as that, merely because I see her faults.
TANNER. [cynically] You love her, then?
MRS WHITEFIELD. Why, of course I do. What queer things you say, Jack! We can't help loving our own blood relations.
TANNER. Well, perhaps it saves unpleasantness to say so. But for my part, I suspect that the tables of consanguinity have a natural basis in a natural repugnance [he rises].
MRS WHITEFIELD. You shouldn't say things like that, Jack. I hope you won't tell Ann that I have been speaking to you. I only wanted to set myself right with you and Tavy. I couldn't sit mumchance and have everything put on me.
TANNER. [politely] Quite so.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [dissatisfied] And now I've only made matters worse. Tavy's angry with me because I don't worship Ann. And when it's been put into my head that Ann ought to marry you, what can I say except that it would serve her right?
TANNER. Thank you.
MRS WHITEFIELD. Now don't be silly and twist what I say into something I don't mean. I ought to have fair play —
Ann comes from the villa, followed presently by Violet, who is dressed for driving.
ANN. [coming to her mother's right hand with threatening suavity] Well, mamma darling, you seem to be having a delightful chat with Jack. We can hear you all over the place.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [appalled] Have you overheard —
TANNER. Never fear: Ann is only — well, we were discussing that habit of hers just now. She hasn't heard a word.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [stoutly] I don't care whether she has or not: I have a right to say what I please.
VIOLET. [arriving on the lawn and coming between Mrs Whitefield and Tanner] I've come to say goodbye. I'm off for my honeymoon.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [crying] Oh don't say that, Violet. And no wedding, no breakfast, no clothes, nor anything.
VIOLET. [petting her] It won't be for long.
MRS WHITEFIELD. Don't let him take you to America. Promise me that you won't.
VIOLET. [very decidedly] I should think not, indeed. Don't cry, dear: I'm only going to the hotel.
MRS WHITEFIELD. But going in that dress, with your luggage, makes one realize — [she chokes, and then breaks out again] How I wish you were my daughter, Violet!
VIOLET. [soothing her] There, there: so I am. Ann will be jealous.
MRS WHITEFIELD. Ann doesn't care a bit for me.
ANN. Fie, mother! Come, now: you mustn't cry any more: you know Violet doesn't like it [Mrs Whitefzeld dries her eyes, and subsides].
VIOLET. Goodbye, Jack.
TANNER. Goodbye, Violet.
VIOLET. The sooner you get married too, the better. You will be much less misunderstood.
TANNER. [restively] I quite expect to get married in the course of the afternoon. You all seem to have set your minds on it.
VIOLET. You might do worse. [To Mrs Whitefield: putting her arm round her] Let me take you to the hotel with me: the drive will do you good. Come in and get a wrap. [She takes her towards the villa].
MRS WHITEFIELD. [as they go up through the garden] I don't know what I shall do when you are gone, with no one but Ann in the house; and she always occupied with the men! It's not to be expected that your husband will care to be bothered with an old woman like me. Oh, you needn't tell me: politeness is all very well; but I know what people think — [She talks herself and Violet out of sight and hearing].
Ann, musing on Violet's opportune advice, approaches Tanner; examines him humorously for a moment from toe to top; and finally delivers her opinion.