EPISTLE DEDICATORY TO ARTHUR BINGHAM WALKLEY
My dear Walkley:
You once asked me why I did not write a Don Juan play. The levity with which you assumed this frightful responsibility has probably by this time enabled you to forget it; but the day of reckoning has arrived: here is your play! I say your play, because qui facit per alium facit per se. Its profits, like its labor, belong to me: its morals, its manners, its philosophy, its influence on the young, are for you to justify. You were of mature age when you made the suggestion; and you knew your man. It is hardly fifteen years since, as twin pioneers of the New Journalism of that time, we two, cradled in the same new sheets, made an epoch in the criticism of the theatre and the opera house by making it a pretext for a propaganda of our own views of life. So you cannot plead ignorance of the character of the force you set in motion. You meant me to epater le bourgeois; and if he protests, I hereby refer him to you as the accountable party.
I warn you that if you attempt to repudiate your responsibility, I shall suspect you of finding the play too decorous for your taste. The fifteen years have made me older and graver. In you I can detect no such becoming change. Your levities and audacities are like the loves and comforts prayed for by Desdemona: they increase, even as your days do grow. No mere pioneering journal dares meddle with them now: the stately Times itself is alone sufficiently above suspicion to act as your chaperone; and even the Times must sometimes thank its stars that new plays are not produced every day, since after each such event its gravity is compromised, its platitude turned to epigram, its portentousness to wit, its propriety to elegance, and even its decorum into naughtiness by criticisms which the traditions of the paper do not allow you to sign at the end, but which you take care to sign with the most extravagant flourishes between the lines. I am not sure that this is not a portent of Revolution. In eighteenth century France the end was at hand when men bought the Encyclopedia and found Diderot there. When I buy the Times and find you there, my prophetic ear catches a rattle of twentieth century tumbrils.
However, that is not my present anxiety. The question is, will you not be disappointed with a Don Juan play in which not one of that hero’s mille e tre adventures is brought upon the stage? To propitiate you, let me explain myself. You will retort that I never do anything else: it is your favorite jibe at me that what I call drama is nothing but explanation. But you must not expect me to adopt your inexplicable, fantastic, petulant, fastidious ways: you must take me as I am, a reasonable, patient, consistent, apologetic, laborious person, with the temperament of a schoolmaster and the pursuits of a vestryman. No doubt that literary knack of mine which happens to amuse the British public distracts attention from my character; but the character is there none the less, solid as bricks. I have a conscience; and conscience is always anxiously explanatory. You, on the contrary, feel that a man who discusses his conscience is much like a woman who discusses her modesty. The only moral force you condescend to parade is the force of your wit: the only demand you make in public is the demand of your artistic temperament for symmetry, elegance, style, grace, refinement, and the cleanliness which comes next to godliness if not before it. But my conscience is the genuine pulpit article: it annoys me to see people comfortable when they ought to be uncomfortable; and I insist on making them think in order to bring them to conviction of sin. If you don’t like my preaching you must lump it. I really cannot help it.
In the preface to my Plays for Puritans I explained the predicament of our contemporary English drama, forced to deal almost exclusively with cases of sexual attraction, and yet forbidden to exhibit the incidents of that attraction or even to discuss its nature. Your suggestion that I should write a Don Juan play was virtually a challenge to me to treat this subject myself dramatically. The challenge was difficult enough to be worth accepting, because, when you come to think of it, though we have plenty of dramas with heroes and heroines who are in love and must accordingly marry or perish at the end of the play, or about people whose relations with one another have been complicated by the marriage laws, not to mention the looser sort of plays which trade on the tradition that illicit love affairs are at once vicious and delightful, we have no modern English plays in which the natural attraction of the sexes for one another is made the mainspring of the action. That is why we insist on beauty in our performers, differing herein from the countries our friend William Archer holds up as examples of seriousness to our childish theatres. There the Juliets and Isoldes, the Romeos and Tristans, might be our mothers and fathers. Not so the English actress. The heroine she impersonates is not allowed to discuss the elemental relations of men and women: all her romantic twaddle about novelet-made love, all her purely legal dilemmas as to whether she was married or “betrayed,” quite miss our hearts and worry our minds. To console ourselves we must just look at her. We do so; and her beauty feeds our starving emotions. Sometimes we grumble ungallantly at the lady because she does not act as well as she looks. But in a drama which, with all its preoccupation with sex, is really void of sexual interest, good looks are more desired than histrionic skill.
Let me press this point on you, since you are too clever to raise the fool’s cry of paradox whenever I take hold of a stick by the right instead of the wrong end. Why are our occasional attempts to deal with the sex problem on the stage so repulsive and dreary that even those who are most determined that sex questions shall be held open and their discussion kept free, cannot pretend to relish these joyless attempts at social sanitation? Is it not because at bottom they are utterly sexless? What is the usual formula for such plays? A woman has, on some past occasion, been brought into conflict with the law which regulates the relations of the sexes. A man, by falling in love with her, or marrying her, is brought into conflict with the social convention which discountenances the woman. Now the conflicts of individuals with law and convention can be dramatized like all other human conflicts; but they are purely judicial; and the fact that we are much more curious about the suppressed relations between the man and the woman than about the relations between both and our courts of law and private juries of matrons, produces that sensation of evasion, of dissatisfaction, of fundamental irrelevance, of shallowness, of useless disagreeableness, of total failure to edify and partial failure to interest, which is as familiar to you in the theatres as it was to me when I, too, frequented those uncomfortable buildings, and found our popular playwrights in the mind to (as they thought) emulate Ibsen.
I take it that when you asked me for a Don Juan play you did not want that sort of thing. Nobody does: the successes such plays sometimes obtain are due to the incidental conventional melodrama with which the experienced popular author instinctively saves himself from failure. But what did you want? Owing to your unfortunate habit—you now, I hope, feel its inconvenience—of not explaining yourself, I have had to discover this for myself. First, then, I have had to ask myself, what is a Don Juan? Vulgarly, a libertine. But your dislike of vulgarity is pushed to the length of a defect (universality of character is impossible without a share of vulgarity); and even if you could acquire the taste, you would find yourself overfed from ordinary sources without troubling me. So I took it that you demanded a Don Juan in the philosophic sense.
Philosophically, Don Juan is a man who, though gifted enough to be exceptionally capable of distinguishing between good and evil, follows his own instincts without regard to the common statute, or canon law; and therefore, whilst gaining the ardent sympathy of our rebellious instincts (which are flattered by the brilliancies with which Don Juan associates them) finds himself in mortal conflict with existing institutions, and defends himself by fraud and farce as unscrupulously as a farmer defends his crops by the same means against vermin. The prototypic Don Juan, invented early in the XVI century by a Spanish monk, was presented, according to the ideas of that time, as the enemy of God, the approach of whose vengeance is felt throughout the drama, growing in menace from minute to minute. No anxiety is caused on Don Juan’s account by any minor antagonist: he easily eludes the police, temporal and spiritual; and when an indignant father seeks private redress with the sword, Don Juan kills him without an effort. Not until the slain father returns from heaven as the agent of God, in the form of his own statue, does he prevail against his slayer and cast him into hell. The moral is a monkish one: repent and reform now; for to-morrow it may be too late. This is really the only point on which Don Juan is sceptical; for he is a devout believer in an ultimate hell, and risks damnation only because, as he is young, it seems so far off that repentance can be postponed until he has amused himself to his heart’s content.
But the lesson intended by an author is hardly ever the lesson the world chooses to learn from his book. What attracts and impresses us in El Burlador de Sevilla is not the immediate urgency of repentance, but the heroism of daring to be the enemy of God. From Prometheus to my own Devil’s Disciple, such enemies have always been popular. Don Juan became such a pet that the world could not bear his damnation. It reconciled him sentimentally to God in a second version, and clamored for his canonization for a whole century, thus treating him as English journalism has treated that comic foe of the gods, Punch. Moliere’s Don Juan casts back to the original in point of impenitence; but in piety he falls off greatly. True, he also proposes to repent; but in what terms? “Oui, ma foi! il faut s’amender. Encore vingt ou trente ans de cette vie-ci, et puis nous songerons a nous.” After Moliere comes the artist-enchanter, the master of masters, Mozart, who reveals the hero’s spirit in magical harmonies, elfin tones, and elate darting rhythms as of summer lightning made audible. Here you have freedom in love and in morality mocking exquisitely at slavery to them, and interesting you, attracting you, tempting you, inexplicably forcing you to range the hero with his enemy the statue on a transcendant plane, leaving the prudish daughter and her priggish lover on a crockery shelf below to live piously ever after.
After these completed works Byron’s fragment does not count for much philosophically. Our vagabond libertines are no more interesting from that point of view than the sailor who has a wife in every port, and Byron’s hero is, after all, only a vagabond libertine. And he is dumb: he does not discuss himself with a Sganarelle-Leporello or with the fathers or brothers of his mistresses: he does not even, like Casanova, tell his own story. In fact he is not a true Don Juan at all; for he is no more an enemy of God than any romantic and adventurous young sower of wild oats. Had you and I been in his place at his age, who knows whether we might not have done as he did, unless indeed your fastidiousness had saved you from the empress Catherine. Byron was as little of a philosopher as Peter the Great: both were instances of that rare and useful, but unedifying variation, an energetic genius born without the prejudices or superstitions of his contemporaries. The resultant unscrupulous freedom of thought made Byron a greater poet than Wordsworth just as it made Peter a greater king than George III; but as it was, after all, only a negative qualification, it did not prevent Peter from being an appalling blackguard and an arrant poltroon, nor did it enable Byron to become a religious force like Shelley. Let us, then, leave Byron’s Don Juan out of account. Mozart’s is the last of the true Don Juans; for by the time he was of age, his cousin Faust had, in the hands of Goethe, taken his place and carried both his warfare and his reconciliation with the gods far beyond mere lovemaking into politics, high art, schemes for reclaiming new continents from the ocean, and recognition of an eternal womanly principle in the universe. Goethe’s Faust and Mozart’s Don Juan were the last words of the XVIII century on the subject; and by the time the polite critics of the XIX century, ignoring William Blake as superficially as the XVIII had ignored Hogarth or the XVII Bunyan, had got past the Dickens-Macaulay Dumas-Guizot stage and the Stendhal-Meredith-Turgenieff stage, and were confronted with philosophic fiction by such pens as Ibsen’s and Tolstoy’s, Don Juan had changed his sex and become Dona Juana, breaking out of the Doll’s House and asserting herself as an individual instead of a mere item in a moral pageant.
Now it is all very well for you at the beginning of the XX century to ask me for a Don Juan play; but you will see from the foregoing survey that Don Juan is a full century out of date for you and for me; and if there are millions of less literate people who are still in the eighteenth century, have they not Moliere and Mozart, upon whose art no human hand can improve? You would laugh at me if at this time of day I dealt in duels and ghosts and “womanly” women. As to mere libertinism, you would be the first to remind me that the Festin de Pierre of Moliere is not a play for amorists, and that one bar of the voluptuous sentimentality of Gounod or Bizet would appear as a licentious stain on the score of Don Giovanni. Even the more abstract parts of the Don Juan play are dilapidated past use: for instance, Don Juan’s supernatural antagonist hurled those who refuse to repent into lakes of burning brimstone, there to be tormented by devils with horns and tails. Of that antagonist, and of that conception of repentance, how much is left that could be used in a play by me dedicated to you? On the other hand, those forces of middle class public opinion which hardly existed for a Spanish nobleman in the days of the first Don Juan, are now triumphant everywhere. Civilized society is one huge bourgeoisie: no nobleman dares now shock his greengrocer. The women, “marchesane, principesse, cameriere, cittadine” and all, are become equally dangerous: the sex is aggressive, powerful: when women are wronged they do not group themselves pathetically to sing “Protegga il giusto cielo”: they grasp formidable legal and social weapons, and retaliate. Political parties are wrecked and public careers undone by a single indiscretion. A man had better have all the statues in London to supper with him, ugly as they are, than be brought to the bar of the Nonconformist Conscience by Donna Elvira. Excommunication has become almost as serious a business as it was in the X century.
As a result, Man is no longer, like Don Juan, victor in the duel of sex. Whether he has ever really been may be doubted: at all events the enormous superiority of Woman’s natural position in this matter is telling with greater and greater force. As to pulling the Nonconformist Conscience by the beard as Don Juan plucked the beard of the Commandant’s statue in the convent of San Francisco, that is out of the question nowadays: prudence and good manners alike forbid it to a hero with any mind. Besides, it is Don Juan’s own beard that is in danger of plucking. Far from relapsing into hypocrisy, as Sganarelle feared, he has unexpectedly discovered a moral in his immorality. The growing recognition of his new point of view is heaping responsibility on him. His former jests he has had to take as seriously as I have had to take some of the jests of Mr W. S. Gilbert. His scepticism, once his least tolerated quality, has now triumphed so completely that he can no longer assert himself by witty negations, and must, to save himself from cipherdom, find an affirmative position. His thousand and three affairs of gallantry, after becoming, at most, two immature intrigues leading to sordid and prolonged complications and humiliations, have been discarded altogether as unworthy of his philosophic dignity and compromising to his newly acknowledged position as the founder of a school. Instead of pretending to read Ovid he does actually read Schopenhaur and Nietzsche, studies Westermarck, and is concerned for the future of the race instead of for the freedom of his own instincts. Thus his profligacy and his dare-devil airs have gone the way of his sword and mandoline into the rag shop of anachronisms and superstitions. In fact, he is now more Hamlet than Don Juan; for though the lines put into the actor’s mouth to indicate to the pit that Hamlet is a philosopher are for the most part mere harmonious platitude which, with a little debasement of the word-music, would be properer to Pecksniff, yet if you separate the real hero, inarticulate and unintelligible to himself except in flashes of inspiration, from the performer who has to talk at any cost through five acts; and if you also do what you must always do in Shakespear’s tragedies: that is, dissect out the absurd sensational incidents and physical violences of the borrowed story from the genuine Shakespearian tissue, you will get a true Promethean foe of the gods, whose instinctive attitude towards women much resembles that to which Don Juan is now driven. From this point of view Hamlet was a developed Don Juan whom Shakespear palmed off as a reputable man just as he palmed poor Macbeth off as a murderer. To-day the palming off is no longer necessary (at least on your plane and mine) because Don Juanism is no longer misunderstood as mere Casanovism. Don Juan himself is almost ascetic in his desire to avoid that misunderstanding; and so my attempt to bring him up to date by launching him as a modern Englishman into a modern English environment has produced a figure superficially quite unlike the hero of Mozart.
And yet I have not the heart to disappoint you wholly of another glimpse of the Mozartian dissoluto punito and his antagonist the statue. I feel sure you would like to know more of that statue—to draw him out when he is off duty, so to speak. To gratify you, I have resorted to the trick of the strolling theatrical manager who advertizes the pantomime of Sinbad the Sailor with a stock of second-hand picture posters designed for Ali Baba. He simply thrusts a few oil jars into the valley of diamonds, and so fulfils the promise held out by the hoardings to the public eye. I have adapted this simple device to our occasion by thrusting into my perfectly modern three-act play a totally extraneous act in which my hero, enchanted by the air of the Sierra, has a dream in which his Mozartian ancestor appears and philosophizes at great length in a Shavio-Socratic dialogue with the lady, the statue, and the devil.
But this pleasantry is not the essence of the play. Over this essence I have no control. You propound a certain social substance, sexual attraction to wit, for dramatic distillation; and I distil it for you. I do not adulterate the product with aphrodisiacs nor dilute it with romance and water; for I am merely executing your commission, not producing a popular play for the market. You must therefore (unless, like most wise men, you read the play first and the preface afterwards) prepare yourself to face a trumpery story of modern London life, a life in which, as you know, the ordinary man’s main business is to get means to keep up the position and habits of a gentleman, and the ordinary woman’s business is to get married. In 9,999 cases out of 10,000, you can count on their doing nothing, whether noble or base, that conflicts with these ends; and that assurance is what you rely on as their religion, their morality, their principles, their patriotism, their reputation, their honor and so forth.
On the whole, this is a sensible and satisfactory foundation for society. Money means nourishment and marriage means children; and that men should put nourishment first and women children first is, broadly speaking, the law of Nature and not the dictate of personal ambition. The secret of the prosaic man’s success, such as it is, is the simplicity with which he pursues these ends: the secret of the artistic man’s failure, such as that is, is the versatility with which he strays in all directions after secondary ideals. The artist is either a poet or a scallawag: as poet, he cannot see, as the prosaic man does, that chivalry is at bottom only romantic suicide: as scallawag, he cannot see that it does not pay to spunge and beg and lie and brag and neglect his person. Therefore do not misunderstand my plain statement of the fundamental constitution of London society as an Irishman’s reproach to your nation. From the day I first set foot on this foreign soil I knew the value of the prosaic qualities of which Irishmen teach Englishmen to be ashamed as well as I knew the vanity of the poetic qualities of which Englishmen teach Irishmen to be proud. For the Irishman instinctively disparages the quality which makes the Englishman dangerous to him; and the Englishman instinctively flatters the fault that makes the Irishman harmless and amusing to him. What is wrong with the prosaic Englishman is what is wrong with the prosaic men of all countries: stupidity. The vitality which places nourishment and children first, heaven and hell a somewhat remote second, and the health of society as an organic whole nowhere, may muddle successfully through the comparatively tribal stages of gregariousness; but in nineteenth century nations and twentieth century empires the determination of every man to be rich at all costs, and of every woman to be married at all costs, must, without a highly scientific social organization, produce a ruinous development of poverty, celibacy, prostitution, infant mortality, adult degeneracy, and everything that wise men most dread. In short, there is no future for men, however brimming with crude vitality, who are neither intelligent nor politically educated enough to be Socialists. So do not misunderstand me in the other direction either: if I appreciate the vital qualities of the Englishman as I appreciate the vital qualities of the bee, I do not guarantee the Englishman against being, like the bee (or the Canaanite) smoked out and unloaded of his honey by beings inferior to himself in simple acquisitiveness, combativeness, and fecundity, but superior to him in imagination and cunning.
The Don Juan play, however, is to deal with sexual attraction, and not with nutrition, and to deal with it in a society in which the serious business of sex is left by men to women, as the serious business of nutrition is left by women to men. That the men, to protect themselves against a too aggressive prosecution of the women’s business, have set up a feeble romantic convention that the initiative in sex business must always come from the man, is true; but the pretence is so shallow that even in the theatre, that last sanctuary of unreality, it imposes only on the inexperienced. In Shakespear’s plays the woman always takes the initiative. In his problem plays and his popular plays alike the love interest is the interest of seeing the woman hunt the man down. She may do it by blandishment, like Rosalind, or by stratagem, like Mariana; but in every case the relation between the woman and the man is the same: she is the pursuer and contriver, he the pursued and disposed of. When she is baffled, like Ophelia, she goes mad and commits suicide; and the man goes straight from her funeral to a fencing match. No doubt Nature, with very young creatures, may save the woman the trouble of scheming: Prospero knows that he has only to throw Ferdinand and Miranda together and they will mate like a pair of doves; and there is no need for Perdita to capture Florizel as the lady doctor in All’s Well That Ends Well (an early Ibsenite heroine) captures Bertram. But the mature cases all illustrate the Shakespearian law. The one apparent exception, Petruchio, is not a real one: he is most carefully characterized as a purely commercial matrimonial adventurer. Once he is assured that Katharine has money, he undertakes to marry her before he has seen her. In real life we find not only Petruchios, but Mantalinis and Dobbins who pursue women with appeals to their pity or jealousy or vanity, or cling to them in a romantically infatuated way. Such effeminates do not count in the world scheme: even Bunsby dropping like a fascinated bird into the jaws of Mrs MacStinger is by comparison a true tragic object of pity and terror. I find in my own plays that Woman, projecting herself dramatically by my hands (a process over which I assure you I have no more real control than I have over my wife), behaves just as Woman did in the plays of Shakespear.
And so your Don Juan has come to birth as a stage projection of the tragi-comic love chase of the man by the woman; and my Don Juan is the quarry instead of the huntsman. Yet he is a true Don Juan, with a sense of reality that disables convention, defying to the last the fate which finally overtakes him. The woman’s need of him to enable her to carry on Nature’s most urgent work, does not prevail against him until his resistance gathers her energy to a climax at which she dares to throw away her customary exploitations of the conventional affectionate and dutiful poses, and claim him by natural right for a purpose that far transcends their mortal personal purposes.
Among the friends to whom I have read this play in manuscript are some of our own sex who are shocked at the “unscrupulousness,” meaning the total disregard of masculine fastidiousness, with which the woman pursues her purpose. It does not occur to them that if women were as fastidious as men, morally or physically, there would be an end of the race. Is there anything meaner then to throw necessary work upon other people and then disparage it as unworthy and indelicate. We laugh at the haughty American nation because it makes the negro clean its boots and then proves the moral and physical inferiority of the negro by the fact that he is a shoeblack; but we ourselves throw the whole drudgery of creation on one sex, and then imply that no female of any womanliness or delicacy would initiate any effort in that direction. There are no limits to male hypocrisy in this matter. No doubt there are moments when man’s sexual immunities are made acutely humiliating to him. When the terrible moment of birth arrives, its supreme importance and its superhuman effort and peril, in which the father has no part, dwarf him into the meanest insignificance: he slinks out of the way of the humblest petticoat, happy if he be poor enough to be pushed out of the house to outface his ignominy by drunken rejoicings. But when the crisis is over he takes his revenge, swaggering as the breadwinner, and speaking of Woman’s “sphere” with condescension, even with chivalry, as if the kitchen and the nursery were less important than the office in the city. When his swagger is exhausted he drivels into erotic poetry or sentimental uxoriousness; and the Tennysonian King Arthur posing as Guinevere becomes Don Quixote grovelling before Dulcinea. You must admit that here Nature beats Comedy out of the field: the wildest hominist or feminist farce is insipid after the most commonplace “slice of life.” The pretence that women do not take the initiative is part of the farce. Why, the whole world is strewn with snares, traps, gins and pitfalls for the capture of men by women. Give women the vote, and in five years there will be a crushing tax on bachelors. Men, on the other hand, attach penalties to marriage, depriving women of property, of the franchise, of the free use of their limbs, of that ancient symbol of immortality, the right to make oneself at home in the house of God by taking off the hat, of everything that he can force Woman to dispense with without compelling himself to dispense with her. All in vain. Woman must marry because the race must perish without her travail: if the risk of death and the certainty of pain, danger and unutterable discomforts cannot deter her, slavery and swaddled ankles will not. And yet we assume that the force that carries women through all these perils and hardships, stops abashed before the primnesses of our behavior for young ladies. It is assumed that the woman must wait, motionless, until she is wooed. Nay, she often does wait motionless. That is how the spider waits for the fly. But the spider spins her web. And if the fly, like my hero, shows a strength that promises to extricate him, how swiftly does she abandon her pretence of passiveness, and openly fling coil after coil about him until he is secured for ever!
If the really impressive books and other art-works of the world were produced by ordinary men, they would express more fear of women’s pursuit than love of their illusory beauty. But ordinary men cannot produce really impressive art-works. Those who can are men of genius: that is, men selected by Nature to carry on the work of building up an intellectual consciousness of her own instinctive purpose. Accordingly, we observe in the man of genius all the unscrupulousness and all the “self-sacrifice” (the two things are the same) of Woman. He will risk the stake and the cross; starve, when necessary, in a garret all his life; study women and live on their work and care as Darwin studied worms and lived upon sheep; work his nerves into rags without payment, a sublime altruist in his disregard of himself, an atrocious egotist in his disregard of others. Here Woman meets a purpose as impersonal, as irresistible as her own; and the clash is sometimes tragic. When it is complicated by the genius being a woman, then the game is one for a king of critics: your George Sand becomes a mother to gain experience for the novelist and to develop her, and gobbles up men of genius, Chopins, Mussets and the like, as mere hors d’oeuvres.
I state the extreme case, of course; but what is true of the great man who incarnates the philosophic consciousness of Life and the woman who incarnates its fecundity, is true in some degree of all geniuses and all women. Hence it is that the world’s books get written, its pictures painted, its statues modelled, its symphonies composed, by people who are free of the otherwise universal dominion of the tyranny of sex. Which leads us to the conclusion, astonishing to the vulgar, that art, instead of being before all things the expression of the normal sexual situation, is really the only department in which sex is a superseded and secondary power, with its consciousness so confused and its purpose so perverted, that its ideas are mere fantasy to common men. Whether the artist becomes poet or philosopher, moralist or founder of a religion, his sexual doctrine is nothing but a barren special pleading for pleasure, excitement, and knowledge when he is young, and for contemplative tranquillity when he is old and satiated. Romance and Asceticism, Amorism and Puritanism are equally unreal in the great Philistine world. The world shown us in books, whether the books be confessed epics or professed gospels, or in codes, or in political orations, or in philosophic systems, is not the main world at all: it is only the self-consciousness of certain abnormal people who have the specific artistic talent and temperament. A serious matter this for you and me, because the man whose consciousness does not correspond to that of the majority is a madman; and the old habit of worshipping madmen is giving way to the new habit of locking them up. And since what we call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life, of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real, education, as you no doubt observed at Oxford, destroys, by supplantation, every mind that is not strong enough to see through the imposture and to use the great Masters of Arts as what they really are and no more: that is, patentees of highly questionable methods of thinking, and manufacturers of highly questionable, and for the majority but half valid representations of life. The schoolboy who uses his Homer to throw at his fellow’s head makes perhaps the safest and most rational use of him; and I observe with reassurance that you occasionally do the same, in your prime, with your Aristotle.
Fortunately for us, whose minds have been so overwhelmingly sophisticated by literature, what produces all these treatises and poems and scriptures of one sort or another is the struggle of Life to become divinely conscious of itself instead of blindly stumbling hither and thither in the line of least resistance. Hence there is a driving towards truth in all books on matters where the writer, though exceptionally gifted is normally constituted, and has no private axe to grind. Copernicus had no motive for misleading his fellowmen as to the place of the sun in the solar system: he looked for it as honestly as a shepherd seeks his path in a mist. But Copernicus would not have written love stories scientifically. When it comes to sex relations, the man of genius does not share the common man’s danger of capture, nor the woman of genius the common woman’s overwhelming specialization. And that is why our scriptures and other art works, when they deal with love, turn from honest attempts at science in physics to romantic nonsense, erotic ecstasy, or the stern asceticism of satiety (“the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” said William Blake; for “you never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough”).
There is a political aspect of this sex question which is too big for my comedy, and too momentous to be passed over without culpable frivolity. It is impossible to demonstrate that the initiative in sex transactions remains with Woman, and has been confirmed to her, so far, more and more by the suppression of rapine and discouragement of importunity, without being driven to very serious reflections on the fact that this initiative is politically the most important of all the initiatives, because our political experiment of democracy, the last refuge of cheap misgovernment, will ruin us if our citizens are ill bred.
When we two were born, this country was still dominated by a selected class bred by political marriages. The commercial class had not then completed the first twenty-five years of its new share of political power; and it was itself selected by money qualification, and bred, if not by political marriage, at least by a pretty rigorous class marriage. Aristocracy and plutocracy still furnish the figureheads of politics; but they are now dependent on the votes of the promiscuously bred masses. And this, if you please, at the very moment when the political problem, having suddenly ceased to mean a very limited and occasional interference, mostly by way of jobbing public appointments, in the mismanagement of a tight but parochial little island, with occasional meaningless prosecution of dynastic wars, has become the industrial reorganization of Britain, the construction of a practically international Commonwealth, and the partition of the whole of Africa and perhaps the whole of Asia by the civilized Powers. Can you believe that the people whose conceptions of society and conduct, whose power of attention and scope of interest, are measured by the British theatre as you know it to-day, can either handle this colossal task themselves, or understand and support the sort of mind and character that is (at least comparatively) capable of handling it? For remember: what our voters are in the pit and gallery they are also in the polling booth. We are all now under what Burke called “the hoofs of the swinish multitude.” Burke’s language gave great offence because the implied exceptions to its universal application made it a class insult; and it certainly was not for the pot to call the kettle black. The aristocracy he defended, in spite of the political marriages by which it tried to secure breeding for itself, had its mind undertrained by silly schoolmasters and governesses, its character corrupted by gratuitous luxury, its self-respect adulterated to complete spuriousness by flattery and flunkeyism. It is no better to-day and never will be any better: our very peasants have something morally hardier in them that culminates occasionally in a Bunyan, a Burns, or a Carlyle. But observe, this aristocracy, which was overpowered from 1832 to 1885 by the middle class, has come back to power by the votes of “the swinish multitude.” Tom Paine has triumphed over Edmund Burke; and the swine are now courted electors. How many of their own class have these electors sent to parliament? Hardly a dozen out of 670, and these only under the persuasion of conspicuous personal qualifications and popular eloquence. The multitude thus pronounces judgment on its own units: it admits itself unfit to govern, and will vote only for a man morphologically and generically transfigured by palatial residence and equipage, by transcendent tailoring, by the glamor of aristocratic kinship. Well, we two know these transfigured persons, these college passmen, these well groomed monocular Algys and Bobbies, these cricketers to whom age brings golf instead of wisdom, these plutocratic products of “the nail and sarspan business as he got his money by.” Do you know whether to laugh or cry at the notion that they, poor devils! will drive a team of continents as they drive a four-in-hand; turn a jostling anarchy of casual trade and speculation into an ordered productivity; and federate our colonies into a world-Power of the first magnitude? Give these people the most perfect political constitution and the soundest political program that benevolent omniscience can devise for them, and they will interpret it into mere fashionable folly or canting charity as infallibly as a savage converts the philosophical theology of a Scotch missionary into crude African idolatry.
I do not know whether you have any illusions left on the subject of education, progress, and so forth. I have none. Any pamphleteer can show the way to better things; but when there is no will there is no way. My nurse was fond of remarking that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and the more I see of the efforts of our churches and universities and literary sages to raise the mass above its own level, the more convinced I am that my nurse was right. Progress can do nothing but make the most of us all as we are, and that most would clearly not be enough even if those who are already raised out of the lowest abysses would allow the others a chance. The bubble of Heredity has been pricked: the certainty that acquirements are negligible as elements in practical heredity has demolished the hopes of the educationists as well as the terrors of the degeneracy mongers; and we know now that there is no hereditary “governing class” any more than a hereditary hooliganism. We must either breed political capacity or be ruined by Democracy, which was forced on us by the failure of the older alternatives. Yet if Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters: that is, of political critics who, if they cannot govern in person for lack of spare energy or specific talent for administration, can at least recognize and appreciate capacity and benevolence in others, and so govern through capably benevolent representatives? Where are such voters to be found to-day? Nowhere. Promiscuous breeding has produced a weakness of character that is too timid to face the full stringency of a thoroughly competitive struggle for existence and too lazy and petty to organize the commonwealth co-operatively. Being cowards, we defeat natural selection under cover of philanthropy: being sluggards, we neglect artificial selection under cover of delicacy and morality.
Yet we must get an electorate of capable critics or collapse as Rome and Egypt collapsed. At this moment the Roman decadent phase of panem et circenses is being inaugurated under our eyes. Our newspapers and melodramas are blustering about our imperial destiny; but our eyes and hearts turn eagerly to the American millionaire. As his hand goes down to his pocket, our fingers go up to the brims of our hats by instinct. Our ideal prosperity is not the prosperity of the industrial north, but the prosperity of the Isle of Wight, of Folkestone and Ramsgate, of Nice and Monte Carlo. That is the only prosperity you see on the stage, where the workers are all footmen, parlourmaids, comic lodging-letters and fashionable professional men, whilst the heroes and heroines are miraculously provided with unlimited dividends, and eat gratuitously, like the knights in Don Quixote’s books of chivalry.
The city papers prate of the competition of Bombay with Manchester and the like. The real competition is the competition of Regent Street with the Rue de Rivoli, of Brighton and the south coast with the Riviera, for the spending money of the American Trusts. What is all this growing love of pageantry, this effusive loyalty, this officious rising and uncovering at a wave from a flag or a blast from a brass band? Imperialism: Not a bit of it. Obsequiousness, servility, cupidity roused by the prevailing smell of money. When Mr Carnegie rattled his millions in his pockets all England became one rapacious cringe. Only, when Rhodes (who had probably been reading my Socialism for Millionaires) left word that no idler was to inherit his estate, the bent backs straightened mistrustfully for a moment. Could it be that the Diamond King was no gentleman after all? However, it was easy to ignore a rich man’s solecism. The ungentlemanly clause was not mentioned again; and the backs soon bowed themselves back into their natural shape.
But I hear you asking me in alarm whether I have actually put all this tub thumping into a Don Juan comedy. I have not. I have only made my Don Juan a political pamphleteer, and given you his pamphlet in full by way of appendix. You will find it at the end of the book. I am sorry to say that it is a common practice with romancers to announce their hero as a man of extraordinary genius, and to leave his works entirely to the reader’s imagination; so that at the end of the book you whisper to yourself ruefully that but for the author’s solemn preliminary assurance you should hardly have given the gentleman credit for ordinary good sense. You cannot accuse me of this pitiable barrenness, this feeble evasion. I not only tell you that my hero wrote a revolutionists’ handbook: I give you the handbook at full length for your edification if you care to read it. And in that handbook you will find the politics of the sex question as I conceive Don Juan’s descendant to understand them. Not that I disclaim the fullest responsibility for his opinions and for those of all my characters, pleasant and unpleasant. They are all right from their several points of view; and their points of view are, for the dramatic moment, mine also. This may puzzle the people who believe that there is such a thing as an absolutely right point of view, usually their own. It may seem to them that nobody who doubts this can be in a state of grace. However that may be, it is certainly true that nobody who agrees with them can possibly be a dramatist, or indeed anything else that turns upon a knowledge of mankind. Hence it has been pointed out that Shakespear had no conscience. Neither have I, in that sense.
You may, however, remind me that this digression of mine into politics was preceded by a very convincing demonstration that the artist never catches the point of view of the common man on the question of sex, because he is not in the same predicament. I first prove that anything I write on the relation of the sexes is sure to be misleading; and then I proceed to write a Don Juan play. Well, if you insist on asking me why I behave in this absurd way, I can only reply that you asked me to, and that in any case my treatment of the subject may be valid for the artist, amusing to the amateur, and at least intelligible and therefore possibly suggestive to the Philistine. Every man who records his illusions is providing data for the genuinely scientific psychology which the world still waits for. I plank down my view of the existing relations of men to women in the most highly civilized society for what it is worth. It is a view like any other view and no more, neither true nor false, but, I hope, a way of looking at the subject which throws into the familiar order of cause and effect a sufficient body of fact and experience to be interesting to you, if not to the play-going public of London. I have certainly shown little consideration for that public in this enterprise; but I know that it has the friendliest disposition towards you and me as far as it has any consciousness of our existence, and quite understands that what I write for you must pass at a considerable height over its simple romantic head. It will take my books as read and my genius for granted, trusting me to put forth work of such quality as shall bear out its verdict. So we may disport ourselves on our own plane to the top of our bent; and if any gentleman points out that neither this epistle dedicatory nor the dream of Don Juan in the third act of the ensuing comedy is suitable for immediate production at a popular theatre we need not contradict him. Napoleon provided Talma with a pit of kings, with what effect on Talma’s acting is not recorded. As for me, what I have always wanted is a pit of philosophers; and this is a play for such a pit.
I should make formal acknowledgment to the authors whom I have pillaged in the following pages if I could recollect them all. The theft of the brigand-poetaster from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is deliberate; and the metamorphosis of Leporello into Enry Straker, motor engineer and New Man, is an intentional dramatic sketch for the contemporary embryo of Mr H. G. Wells’s anticipation of the efficient engineering class which will, he hopes, finally sweep the jabberers out of the way of civilization. Mr Barrio has also, whilst I am correcting my proofs, delighted London with a servant who knows more than his masters. The conception of Mendoza Limited I trace back to a certain West Indian colonial secretary, who, at a period when he and I and Mr Sidney Webb were sowing our political wild oats as a sort of Fabian Three Musketeers, without any prevision of the surprising respectability of the crop that followed, recommended Webb, the encyclopedic and inexhaustible, to form himself into a company for the benefit of the shareholders. Octavius I take over unaltered from Mozart; and I hereby authorize any actor who impersonates him, to sing “Dalla sua pace” (if he can) at any convenient moment during the representation. Ann was suggested to me by the fifteenth century Dutch morality called Everyman, which Mr William Poel has lately resuscitated so triumphantly. I trust he will work that vein further, and recognize that Elizabethan Renascence fustian is no more bearable after medieval poesy than Scribe after Ibsen. As I sat watching Everyman at the Charterhouse, I said to myself Why not Everywoman? Ann was the result: every woman is not Ann; but Ann is Everywoman.
That the author of Everyman was no mere artist, but an artist-philosopher, and that the artist-philosophers are the only sort of artists I take quite seriously, will be no news to you. Even Plato and Boswell, as the dramatists who invented Socrates and Dr Johnson, impress me more deeply than the romantic playwrights. Ever since, as a boy, I first breathed the air of the transcendental regions at a performance of Mozart’s Zauberflote, I have been proof against the garish splendors and alcoholic excitements of the ordinary stage combinations of Tappertitian romance with the police intelligence. Bunyan, Blake, Hogarth and Turner (these four apart and above all the English Classics), Goethe, Shelley, Schopenhaur, Wagner, Ibsen, Morris, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche are among the writers whose peculiar sense of the world I recognize as more or less akin to my own. Mark the word peculiar. I read Dickens and Shakespear without shame or stint; but their pregnant observations and demonstrations of life are not co-ordinated into any philosophy or religion: on the contrary, Dickens’s sentimental assumptions are violently contradicted by his observations; and Shakespear’s pessimism is only his wounded humanity. Both have the specific genius of the fictionist and the common sympathies of human feeling and thought in pre-eminent degree. They are often saner and shrewder than the philosophers just as Sancho-Panza was often saner and shrewder than Don Quixote. They clear away vast masses of oppressive gravity by their sense of the ridiculous, which is at bottom a combination of sound moral judgment with lighthearted good humor. But they are concerned with the diversities of the world instead of with its unities: they are so irreligious that they exploit popular religion for professional purposes without delicacy or scruple (for example, Sydney Carton and the ghost in Hamlet!): they are anarchical, and cannot balance their exposures of Angelo and Dogberry, Sir Leicester Dedlock and Mr Tite Barnacle, with any portrait of a prophet or a worthy leader: they have no constructive ideas: they regard those who have them as dangerous fanatics: in all their fictions there is no leading thought or inspiration for which any man could conceivably risk the spoiling of his hat in a shower, much less his life. Both are alike forced to borrow motives for the more strenuous actions of their personages from the common stockpot of melodramatic plots; so that Hamlet has to be stimulated by the prejudices of a policeman and Macbeth by the cupidities of a bushranger. Dickens, without the excuse of having to manufacture motives for Hamlets and Macbeths, superfluously punt his crew down the stream of his monthly parts by mechanical devices which I leave you to describe, my own memory being quite baffled by the simplest question as to Monks in Oliver Twist, or the long lost parentage of Smike, or the relations between the Dorrit and Clennam families so inopportunely discovered by Monsieur Rigaud Blandois. The truth is, the world was to Shakespear a great “stage of fools” on which he was utterly bewildered. He could see no sort of sense in living at all; and Dickens saved himself from the despair of the dream in The Chimes by taking the world for granted and busying himself with its details. Neither of them could do anything with a serious positive character: they could place a human figure before you with perfect verisimilitude; but when the moment came for making it live and move, they found, unless it made them laugh, that they had a puppet on their hands, and had to invent some artificial external stimulus to make it work. This is what is the matter with Hamlet all through: he has no will except in his bursts of temper. Foolish Bardolaters make a virtue of this after their fashion: they declare that the play is the tragedy of irresolution; but all Shakespear’s projections of the deepest humanity he knew have the same defect: their characters and manners are lifelike; but their actions are forced on them from without, and the external force is grotesquely inappropriate except when it is quite conventional, as in the case of Henry V. Falstaff is more vivid than any of these serious reflective characters, because he is self-acting: his motives are his own appetites and instincts and humors. Richard III, too, is delightful as the whimsical comedian who stops a funeral to make love to the corpse’s widow; but when, in the next act, he is replaced by a stage villain who smothers babies and offs with people’s heads, we are revolted at the imposture and repudiate the changeling. Faulconbridge, Coriolanus, Leontes are admirable descriptions of instinctive temperaments: indeed the play of Coriolanus is the greatest of Shakespear’s comedies; but description is not philosophy; and comedy neither compromises the author nor reveals him. He must be judged by those characters into which he puts what he knows of himself, his Hamlets and Macbeths and Lears and Prosperos. If these characters are agonizing in a void about factitious melodramatic murders and revenges and the like, whilst the comic characters walk with their feet on solid ground, vivid and amusing, you know that the author has much to show and nothing to teach. The comparison between Falstaff and Prospero is like the comparison between Micawber and David Copperfield. At the end of the book you know Micawber, whereas you only know what has happened to David, and are not interested enough in him to wonder what his politics or religion might be if anything so stupendous as a religious or political idea, or a general idea of any sort, were to occur to him. He is tolerable as a child; but he never becomes a man, and might be left out of his own biography altogether but for his usefulness as a stage confidant, a Horatio or “Charles his friend” what they call on the stage a feeder.
Now you cannot say this of the works of the artist-philosophers. You cannot say it, for instance, of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Put your Shakespearian hero and coward, Henry V and Pistol or Parolles, beside Mr Valiant and Mr Fearing, and you have a sudden revelation of the abyss that lies between the fashionable author who could see nothing in the world but personal aims and the tragedy of their disappointment or the comedy of their incongruity, and the field preacher who achieved virtue and courage by identifying himself with the purpose of the world as he understood it. The contrast is enormous: Bunyan’s coward stirs your blood more than Shakespear’s hero, who actually leaves you cold and secretly hostile. You suddenly see that Shakespear, with all his flashes and divinations, never understood virtue and courage, never conceived how any man who was not a fool could, like Bunyan’s hero, look back from the brink of the river of death over the strife and labor of his pilgrimage, and say “yet do I not repent me”; or, with the panache of a millionaire, bequeath “my sword to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.” This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the being used by personally minded men for purposes which you recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the revolt against it is the only force that offers a man’s work to the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so willingly employ as pandar, buffoon, beauty monger, sentimentalizer and the like.
It may seem a long step from Bunyan to Nietzsche; but the difference between their conclusions is purely formal. Bunyan’s perception that righteousness is filthy rags, his scorn for Mr Legality in the village of Morality, his defiance of the Church as the supplanter of religion, his insistence on courage as the virtue of virtues, his estimate of the career of the conventionally respectable and sensible Worldly Wiseman as no better at bottom than the life and death of Mr Badman: all this, expressed by Bunyan in the terms of a tinker’s theology, is what Nietzsche has expressed in terms of post-Darwinian, post-Schopenhaurian philosophy; Wagner in terms of polytheistic mythology; and Ibsen in terms of mid-XIX century Parisian dramaturgy. Nothing is new in these matters except their novelties: for instance, it is a novelty to call Justification by Faith “Wille,” and Justification by Works “Vorstellung.” The sole use of the novelty is that you and I buy and read Schopenhaur’s treatise on Will and Representation when we should not dream of buying a set of sermons on Faith versus Works. At bottom the controversy is the same, and the dramatic results are the same. Bunyan makes no attempt to present his pilgrims as more sensible or better conducted than Mr Worldly Wiseman. Mr W. W.’s worst enemies, as Mr Embezzler, Mr Never-go-to-Church-on-Sunday, Mr Bad Form, Mr Murderer, Mr Burglar, Mr Co-respondent, Mr Blackmailer, Mr Cad, Mr Drunkard, Mr Labor Agitator and so forth, can read the Pilgrim’s Progress without finding a word said against them; whereas the respectable people who snub them and put them in prison, such as Mr W.W. himself and his young friend Civility; Formalist and Hypocrisy; Wildhead, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatick (who were clearly young university men of good family and high feeding); that brisk lad Ignorance, Talkative, By-Ends of Fairspeech and his mother-in-law Lady Feigning, and other reputable gentlemen and citizens, catch it very severely. Even Little Faith, though he gets to heaven at last, is given to understand that it served him right to be mobbed by the brothers Faint Heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, all three recognized members of respectable society and veritable pillars of the law. The whole allegory is a consistent attack on morality and respectability, without a word that one can remember against vice and crime. Exactly what is complained of in Nietzsche and Ibsen, is it not? And also exactly what would be complained of in all the literature which is great enough and old enough to have attained canonical rank, officially or unofficially, were it not that books are admitted to the canon by a compact which confesses their greatness in consideration of abrogating their meaning; so that the reverend rector can agree with the prophet Micah as to his inspired style without being committed to any complicity in Micah’s furiously Radical opinions. Why, even I, as I force myself; pen in hand, into recognition and civility, find all the force of my onslaught destroyed by a simple policy of non-resistance. In vain do I redouble the violence of the language in which I proclaim my heterodoxies. I rail at the theistic credulity of Voltaire, the amoristic superstition of Shelley, the revival of tribal soothsaying and idolatrous rites which Huxley called Science and mistook for an advance on the Pentateuch, no less than at the welter of ecclesiastical and professional humbug which saves the face of the stupid system of violence and robbery which we call Law and Industry. Even atheists reproach me with infidelity and anarchists with nihilism because I cannot endure their moral tirades. And yet, instead of exclaiming “Send this inconceivable Satanist to the stake,” the respectable newspapers pith me by announcing “another book by this brilliant and thoughtful writer.” And the ordinary citizen, knowing that an author who is well spoken of by a respectable newspaper must be all right, reads me, as he reads Micah, with undisturbed edification from his own point of view. It is narrated that in the eighteen-seventies an old lady, a very devout Methodist, moved from Colchester to a house in the neighborhood of the City Road, in London, where, mistaking the Hall of Science for a chapel, she sat at the feet of Charles Bradlaugh for many years, entranced by his eloquence, without questioning his orthodoxy or moulting a feather of her faith. I fear I small be defrauded of my just martyrdom in the same way.
However, I am digressing, as a man with a grievance always does. And after all, the main thing in determining the artistic quality of a book is not the opinions it propagates, but the fact that the writer has opinions. The old lady from Colchester was right to sun her simple soul in the energetic radiance of Bradlaugh’s genuine beliefs and disbeliefs rather than in the chill of such mere painting of light and heat as elocution and convention can achieve. My contempt for belles lettres, and for amateurs who become the heroes of the fanciers of literary virtuosity, is not founded on any illusion of mind as to the permanence of those forms of thought (call them opinions) by which I strive to communicate my bent to my fellows. To younger men they are already outmoded; for though they have no more lost their logic than an eighteenth century pastel has lost its drawing or its color, yet, like the pastel, they grow indefinably shabby, and will grow shabbier until they cease to count at all, when my books will either perish, or, if the world is still poor enough to want them, will have to stand, with Bunyan’s, by quite amorphous qualities of temper and energy. With this conviction I cannot be a bellettrist. No doubt I must recognize, as even the Ancient Mariner did, that I must tell my story entertainingly if I am to hold the wedding guest spellbound in spite of the siren sounds of the loud bassoon. But “for art’s sake” alone I would not face the toil of writing a single sentence. I know that there are men who, having nothing to say and nothing to write, are nevertheless so in love with oratory and with literature that they keep desperately repeating as much as they can understand of what others have said or written aforetime. I know that the leisurely tricks which their want of conviction leaves them free to play with the diluted and misapprehended message supply them with a pleasant parlor game which they call style. I can pity their dotage and even sympathize with their fancy. But a true original style is never achieved for its own sake: a man may pay from a shilling to a guinea, according to his means, to see, hear, or read another man’s act of genius; but he will not pay with his whole life and soul to become a mere virtuoso in literature, exhibiting an accomplishment which will not even make money for him, like fiddle playing. Effectiveness of assertion is the Alpha and Omega of style. He who has nothing to assert has no style and can have none: he who has something to assert will go as far in power of style as its momentousness and his conviction will carry him. Disprove his assertion after it is made, yet its style remains. Darwin has no more destroyed the style of Job nor of Handel than Martin Luther destroyed the style of Giotto. All the assertions get disproved sooner or later; and so we find the world full of a magnificent debris of artistic fossils, with the matter-of-fact credibility gone clean out of them, but the form still splendid. And that is why the old masters play the deuce with our mere susceptibles. Your Royal Academician thinks he can get the style of Giotto without Giotto’s beliefs, and correct his perspective into the bargain. Your man of letters thinks he can get Bunyan’s or Shakespear’s style without Bunyan’s conviction or Shakespear’s apprehension, especially if he takes care not to split his infinitives. And so with your Doctors of Music, who, with their collections of discords duly prepared and resolved or retarded or anticipated in the manner of the great composers, think they can learn the art of Palestrina from Cherubim’s treatise. All this academic art is far worse than the trade in sham antique furniture; for the man who sells me an oaken chest which he swears was made in the XIII century, though as a matter of fact he made it himself only yesterday, at least does not pretend that there are any modern ideas in it, whereas your academic copier of fossils offers them to you as the latest outpouring of the human spirit, and, worst of all, kidnaps young people as pupils and persuades them that his limitations are rules, his observances dexterities, his timidities good taste, and his emptinesses purities. And when he declares that art should not be didactic, all the people who have nothing to teach and all the people who don’t want to learn agree with him emphatically.
I pride myself on not being one of these susceptible: If you study the electric light with which I supply you in that Bumbledonian public capacity of mine over which you make merry from time to time, you will find that your house contains a great quantity of highly susceptible copper wire which gorges itself with electricity and gives you no light whatever. But here and there occurs a scrap of intensely insusceptible, intensely resistant material; and that stubborn scrap grapples with the current and will not let it through until it has made itself useful to you as those two vital qualities of literature, light and heat. Now if I am to be no mere copper wire amateur but a luminous author, I must also be a most intensely refractory person, liable to go out and to go wrong at inconvenient moments, and with incendiary possibilities. These are the faults of my qualities; and I assure you that I sometimes dislike myself so much that when some irritable reviewer chances at that moment to pitch into me with zest, I feel unspeakably relieved and obliged. But I never dream of reforming, knowing that I must take myself as I am and get what work I can out of myself. All this you will understand; for there is community of material between us: we are both critics of life as well as of art; and you have perhaps said to yourself when I have passed your windows, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” An awful and chastening reflection, which shall be the closing cadence of this immoderately long letter from yours faithfully,
G. BERNARD SHAW. WOKING, 1903
Roebuck Ramsden is in his study, opening the morning letters. The study, handsomely and solidly furnished, proclaims the man of means. Not a speck of dust is visible: it is clear that there are at least two housemaids and a parlormaid downstairs, and a housekeeper upstairs who does not let them spare elbow-grease. Even the top of Roebuck’s head is polished: on a sunshiny day he could heliograph his orders to distant camps by merely nodding. In no other respect, however, does he suggest the military man. It is in active civil life that men get his broad air of importance, his dignified expectation of deference, his determinate mouth disarmed and refined since the hour of his success by the withdrawal of opposition and the concession of comfort and precedence and power. He is more than a highly respectable man: he is marked out as a president of highly respectable men, a chairman among directors, an alderman among councillors, a mayor among aldermen. Four tufts of iron-grey hair, which will soon be as white as isinglass, and are in other respects not at all unlike it, grow in two symmetrical pairs above his ears and at the angles of his spreading jaws. He wears a black frock coat, a white waistcoat (it is bright spring weather), and trousers, neither black nor perceptibly blue, of one of those indefinitely mixed hues which the modern clothier has produced to harmonize with the religions of respectable men. He has not been out of doors yet to-day; so he still wears his slippers, his boots being ready for him on the hearthrug. Surmising that he has no valet, and seeing that he has no secretary with a shorthand notebook and a typewriter, one meditates on how little our great burgess domesticity has been disturbed by new fashions and methods, or by the enterprise of the railway and hotel companies which sell you a Saturday to Monday of life at Folkestone as a real gentleman for two guineas, first class fares both ways included.
How old is Roebuck? The question is important on the threshold of a drama of ideas; for under such circumstances everything depends on whether his adolescence belonged to the sixties or to the eighties. He was born, as a matter of fact, in 1839, and was a Unitarian and Free Trader from his boyhood, and an Evolutionist from the publication of the Origin of Species. Consequently he has always classed himself as an advanced thinker and fearlessly outspoken reformer.
Sitting at his writing table, he has on his right the windows giving on Portland Place. Through these, as through a proscenium, the curious spectator may contemplate his profile as well as the blinds will permit. On his left is the inner wall, with a stately bookcase, and the door not quite in the middle, but somewhat further from him. Against the wall opposite him are two busts on pillars: one, to his left, of John Bright; the other, to his right, of Mr Herbert Spencer. Between them hang an engraved portrait of Richard Cobden; enlarged photographs of Martineau, Huxley, and George Eliot; autotypes of allegories by Mr G.F. Watts (for Roebuck believed in the fine arts with all the earnestness of a man who does not understand them), and an impression of Dupont’s engraving of Delaroche’s Beaux Artes hemicycle, representing the great men of all ages. On the wall behind him, above the mantelshelf, is a family portrait of impenetrable obscurity.
A chair stands near the writing table for the convenience of business visitors. Two other chairs are against the wall between the busts.
A parlormaid enters with a visitor’s card. Roebuck takes it, and nods, pleased. Evidently a welcome caller.
RAMSDEN. Show him up.
The parlormaid goes out and returns with the visitor.
THE MAID. Mr Robinson.
Mr Robinson is really an uncommonly nice looking young fellow. He must, one thinks, be the jeune premier; for it is not in reason to suppose that a second such attractive male figure should appear in one story. The slim shapely frame, the elegant suit of new mourning, the small head and regular features, the pretty little moustache, the frank clear eyes, the wholesome bloom and the youthful complexion, the well brushed glossy hair, not curly, but of fine texture and good dark color, the arch of good nature in the eyebrows, the erect forehead and neatly pointed chin, all announce the man who will love and suffer later on. And that he will not do so without sympathy is guaranteed by an engaging sincerity and eager modest serviceableness which stamp him as a man of amiable nature. The moment he appears, Ramsden’s face expands into fatherly liking and welcome, an expression which drops into one of decorous grief as the young man approaches him with sorrow in his face as well as in his black clothes. Ramsden seems to know the nature of the bereavement. As the visitor advances silently to the writing table, the old man rises and shakes his hand across it without a word: a long, affectionate shake which tells the story of a recent sorrow common to both.
RAMSDEN. [concluding the handshake and cheering up] Well, well, Octavius, it’s the common lot. We must all face it someday. Sit down.
Octavius takes the visitor’s chair. Ramsden replaces himself in his own.
OCTAVIUS. Yes: we must face it, Mr Ramsden. But I owed him a great deal. He did everything for me that my father could have done if he had lived.
RAMSDEN. He had no son of his own, you see.
OCTAVIUS. But he had daughters; and yet he was as good to my sister as to me. And his death was so sudden! I always intended to thank him—to let him know that I had not taken all his care of me as a matter of course, as any boy takes his father’s care. But I waited for an opportunity and now he is dead—dropped without a moment’s warning. He will never know what I felt. [He takes out his handkerchief and cries unaffectedly].
RAMSDEN. How do we know that, Octavius? He may know it: we cannot tell. Come! Don’t grieve. [Octavius masters himself and puts up his handkerchief]. That’s right. Now let me tell you something to console you. The last time I saw him—it was in this very room—he said to me: “Tavy is a generous lad and the soul of honor; and when I see how little consideration other men get from their sons, I realize how much better than a son he’s been to me.” There! Doesn’t that do you good?
OCTAVIUS. Mr Ramsden: he used to say to me that he had met only one man in the world who was the soul of honor, and that was Roebuck Ramsden.
RAMSDEN. Oh, that was his partiality: we were very old friends, you know. But there was something else he used to say about you. I wonder whether I ought to tell you or not!
OCTAVIUS. You know best.
RAMSDEN. It was something about his daughter.
OCTAVIUS. [eagerly] About Ann! Oh, do tell me that, Mr Ramsden.
RAMSDEN. Well, he said he was glad, after all, you were not his son, because he thought that someday Annie and you—[Octavius blushes vividly]. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have told you. But he was in earnest.
OCTAVIUS. Oh, if only I thought I had a chance! You know, Mr Ramsden, I don’t care about money or about what people call position; and I can’t bring myself to take an interest in the business of struggling for them. Well, Ann has a most exquisite nature; but she is so accustomed to be in the thick of that sort of thing that she thinks a man’s character incomplete if he is not ambitious. She knows that if she married me she would have to reason herself out of being ashamed of me for not being a big success of some kind.
RAMSDEN. [Getting up and planting himself with his back to the fireplace] Nonsense, my boy, nonsense! You’re too modest. What does she know about the real value of men at her age? [More seriously] Besides, she’s a wonderfully dutiful girl. Her father’s wish would be sacred to her. Do you know that since she grew up to years of discretion, I don’t believe she has ever once given her own wish as a reason for doing anything or not doing it. It’s always “Father wishes me to,” or “Mother wouldn’t like it.” It’s really almost a fault in her. I have often told her she must learn to think for herself.
OCTAVIUS. [shaking his head] I couldn’t ask her to marry me because her father wished it, Mr Ramsden.
RAMSDEN. Well, perhaps not. No: of course not. I see that. No: you certainly couldn’t. But when you win her on your own merits, it will be a great happiness to her to fulfil her father’s desire as well as her own. Eh? Come! you’ll ask her, won’t you?
OCTAVIUS. [with sad gaiety] At all events I promise you I shall never ask anyone else.
RAMSDEN. Oh, you shan’t need to. She’ll accept you, my boy—although [here he suddenly becomes very serious indeed] you have one great drawback.
OCTAVIUS. [anxiously] What drawback is that, Mr Ramsden? I should rather say which of my many drawbacks?
RAMSDEN. I’ll tell you, Octavius. [He takes from the table a book bound in red cloth]. I have in my hand a copy of the most infamous, the most scandalous, the most mischievous, the most blackguardly book that ever escaped burning at the hands of the common hangman. I have not read it: I would not soil my mind with such filth; but I have read what the papers say of it. The title is quite enough for me. [He reads it]. The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion by John Tanner, M.I.R.C., Member of the Idle Rich Class.
OCTAVIUS. [smiling] But Jack—
RAMSDEN. [testily] For goodness’ sake, don’t call him Jack under my roof [he throws the book violently down on the table, Then, somewhat relieved, he comes past the table to Octavius, and addresses him at close quarters with impressive gravity]. Now, Octavius, I know that my dead friend was right when he said you were a generous lad. I know that this man was your schoolfellow, and that you feel bound to stand by him because there was a boyish friendship between you. But I ask you to consider the altered circumstances. You were treated as a son in my friend’s house. You lived there; and your friends could not be turned from the door. This Tanner was in and out there on your account almost from his childhood. He addresses Annie by her Christian name as freely as you do. Well, while her father was alive, that was her father’s business, not mine. This man Tanner was only a boy to him: his opinions were something to be laughed at, like a man’s hat on a child’s head. But now Tanner is a grown man and Annie a grown woman. And her father is gone. We don’t as yet know the exact terms of his will; but he often talked it over with me; and I have no more doubt than I have that you’re sitting there that the will appoints me Annie’s trustee and guardian. [Forcibly] Now I tell you, once for all, I can’t and I won’t have Annie placed in such a position that she must, out of regard for you, suffer the intimacy of this fellow Tanner. It’s not fair: it’s not right: it’s not kind. What are you going to do about it?
OCTAVIUS. But Ann herself has told Jack that whatever his opinions are, he will always be welcome because he knew her dear father.
RAMSDEN. [out of patience] That girl’s mad about her duty to her parents. [He starts off like a goaded ox in the direction of John Bright, in whose expression there is no sympathy for him. As he speaks, he fumes down to Herbert Spencer, who receives him still more coldly] Excuse me, Octavius; but there are limits to social toleration. You know that I am not a bigoted or prejudiced man. You know that I am plain Roebuck Ramsden when other men who have done less have got handles to their names, because I have stood for equality and liberty of conscience while they were truckling to the Church and to the aristocracy. Whitefield and I lost chance after chance through our advanced opinions. But I draw the line at Anarchism and Free Love and that sort of thing. If I am to be Annie’s guardian, she will have to learn that she has a duty to me. I won’t have it: I will not have it. She must forbid John Tanner the house; and so must you.
The parlormaid returns.
RAMSDEN. [calling his attention to the servant] Ssh! Well?
THE MAID. Mr Tanner wishes to see you, sir.
RAMSDEN. Mr Tanner!
RAMSDEN. How dare Mr Tanner call on me! Say I cannot see him.
OCTAVIUS. [hurt] I am sorry you are turning my friend from your door like that.
THE MAID. [calmly] He’s not at the door, sir. He’s upstairs in the drawingroom with Miss Ramsden. He came with Mrs Whitefield and Miss Ann and Miss Robinson, sir.
Ramsden’s feelings are beyond words.
OCTAVIUS. [grinning] That’s very like Jack, Mr Ramsden. You must see him, even if it’s only to turn him out.
RAMSDEN. [hammering out his words with suppressed fury] Go upstairs and ask Mr Tanner to be good enough to step down here. [The parlormaid goes out; and Ramsden returns to the fireplace, as to a fortified position]. I must say that of all the confounded pieces of impertinence—well, if these are Anarchist manners I hope you like them. And Annie with him! Annie! A— [he chokes].
OCTAVIUS. Yes: that’s what surprises me. He’s so desperately afraid of Ann. There must be something the matter.
Mr John Tanner suddenly opens the door and enters. He is too young to be described simply as a big man with a beard. But it is already plain that middle life will find him in that category. He has still some of the slimness of youth; but youthfulness is not the effect he aims at: his frock coat would befit a prime minister; and a certain high chested carriage of the shoulders, a lofty pose of the head, and the Olympian majesty with which a mane, or rather a huge wisp, of hazel colored hair is thrown back from an imposing brow, suggest Jupiter rather than Apollo. He is prodigiously fluent of speech, restless, excitable (mark the snorting nostril and the restless blue eye, just the thirty-secondth of an inch too wide open), possibly a little mad. He is carefully dressed, not from the vanity that cannot resist finery, but from a sense of the importance of everything he does which leads him to make as much of paying a call as other men do of getting married or laying a foundation stone. A sensitive, susceptible, exaggerative, earnest man: a megalomaniac, who would be lost without a sense of humor.
Just at present the sense of humor is in abeyance. To say that he is excited is nothing: all his moods are phases of excitement. He is now in the panic-stricken phase; and he walks straight up to Ramsden as if with the fixed intention of shooting him on his own hearthrug. But what he pulls from his breast pocket is not a pistol, but a foolscap document which he thrusts under the indignant nose of Ramsden as he exclaims—
TANNER. Ramsden: do you know what that is?
RAMSDEN. [loftily] No, Sir.
TANNER. It’s a copy of Whitefield’s will. Ann got it this morning.
RAMSDEN. When you say Ann, you mean, I presume, Miss Whitefield.
TANNER. I mean our Ann, your Ann, Tavy’s Ann, and now, Heaven help me, my Ann!
OCTAVIUS. [rising, very pale] What do you mean?
TANNER. Mean! [He holds up the will]. Do you know who is appointed Ann’s guardian by this will?
RAMSDEN. [coolly] I believe I am.
TANNER. You! You and I, man. I! I!! I!!! Both of us! [He flings the will down on the writing table].
RAMSDEN. You! Impossible.
TANNER. It’s only too hideously true. [He throws himself into Octavius’s chair]. Ramsden: get me out of it somehow. You don’t know Ann as well as I do. She’ll commit every crime a respectable woman can; and she’ll justify every one of them by saying that it was the wish of her guardians. She’ll put everything on us; and we shall have no more control over her than a couple of mice over a cat.
OCTAVIUS. Jack: I wish you wouldn’t talk like that about Ann.
TANNER. This chap’s in love with her: that’s another complication. Well, she’ll either jilt him and say I didn’t approve of him, or marry him and say you ordered her to. I tell you, this is the most staggering blow that has ever fallen on a man of my age and temperament.
RAMSDEN. Let me see that will, sir. [He goes to the writing table and picks it up]. I cannot believe that my old friend Whitefield would have shown such a want of confidence in me as to associate me with— [His countenance falls as he reads].
TANNER. It’s all my own doing: that’s the horrible irony of it. He told me one day that you were to be Ann’s guardian; and like a fool I began arguing with him about the folly of leaving a young woman under the control of an old man with obsolete ideas.
RAMSDEN. [stupended] My ideas obsolete!!!!!
TANNER. Totally. I had just finished an essay called Down with Government by the Greyhaired; and I was full of arguments and illustrations. I said the proper thing was to combine the experience of an old hand with the vitality of a young one. Hang me if he didn’t take me at my word and alter his will—it’s dated only a fortnight after that conversation—appointing me as joint guardian with you!
RAMSDEN. [pale and determined] I shall refuse to act.
TANNER. What’s the good of that? I’ve been refusing all the way from Richmond; but Ann keeps on saying that of course she’s only an orphan; and that she can’t expect the people who were glad to come to the house in her father’s time to trouble much about her now. That’s the latest game. An orphan! It’s like hearing an ironclad talk about being at the mercy of the winds and waves.
OCTAVIUS. This is not fair, Jack. She is an orphan. And you ought to stand by her.
TANNER. Stand by her! What danger is she in? She has the law on her side; she has popular sentiment on her side; she has plenty of money and no conscience. All she wants with me is to load up all her moral responsibilities on me, and do as she likes at the expense of my character. I can’t control her; and she can compromise me as much as she likes. I might as well be her husband.
RAMSDEN. You can refuse to accept the guardianship. I shall certainly refuse to hold it jointly with you.
TANNER. Yes; and what will she say to that? what does she say to it? Just that her father’s wishes are sacred to her, and that she shall always look up to me as her guardian whether I care to face the responsibility or not. Refuse! You might as well refuse to accept the embraces of a boa constrictor when once it gets round your neck.
OCTAVIUS. This sort of talk is not kind to me, Jack.
TANNER. [rising and going to Octavius to console him, but still lamenting] If he wanted a young guardian, why didn’t he appoint Tavy?
RAMSDEN. Ah! why indeed?
OCTAVIUS. I will tell you. He sounded me about it; but I refused the trust because I loved her. I had no right to let myself be forced on her as a guardian by her father. He spoke to her about it; and she said I was right. You know I love her, Mr Ramsden; and Jack knows it too. If Jack loved a woman, I would not compare her to a boa constrictor in his presence, however much I might dislike her [he sits down between the busts and turns his face to the wall].
RAMSDEN. I do not believe that Whitefield was in his right senses when he made that will. You have admitted that he made it under your influence.
TANNER. You ought to be pretty well obliged to me for my influence. He leaves you two thousand five hundred for your trouble. He leaves Tavy a dowry for his sister and five thousand for himself.
OCTAVIUS. [his tears flowing afresh] Oh, I can’t take it. He was too good to us.
TANNER. You won’t get it, my boy, if Ramsden upsets the will.
RAMSDEN. Ha! I see. You have got me in a cleft stick.
TANNER. He leaves me nothing but the charge of Ann’s morals, on the ground that I have already more money than is good for me. That shows that he had his wits about him, doesn’t it?
RAMSDEN. [grimly] I admit that.
OCTAVIUS. [rising and coming from his refuge by the wall] Mr Ramsden: I think you are prejudiced against Jack. He is a man of honor, and incapable of abusing—
TANNER. Don’t, Tavy: you’ll make me ill. I am not a man of honor: I am a man struck down by a dead hand. Tavy: you must marry her after all and take her off my hands. And I had set my heart on saving you from her!
OCTAVIUS. Oh, Jack, you talk of saving me from my highest happiness.
TANNER. Yes, a lifetime of happiness. If it were only the first half hour’s happiness, Tavy, I would buy it for you with my last penny. But a lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth.
RAMSDEN. [violently] Stuff, sir. Talk sense; or else go and waste someone else’s time: I have something better to do than listen to your fooleries [he positively kicks his way to his table and resumes his seat].
TANNER. You hear him, Tavy! Not an idea in his head later than eighteen-sixty. We can’t leave Ann with no other guardian to turn to.
RAMSDEN. I am proud of your contempt for my character and opinions, sir. Your own are set forth in that book, I believe.
TANNER. [eagerly going to the table] What! You’ve got my book! What do you think of it?
RAMSDEN. Do you suppose I would read such a book, sir?
TANNER. Then why did you buy it?
RAMSDEN. I did not buy it, sir. It has been sent me by some foolish lady who seems to admire your views. I was about to dispose of it when Octavius interrupted me. I shall do so now, with your permission. [He throws the book into the waste paper basket with such vehemence that Tanner recoils under the impression that it is being thrown at his head].
TANNER. You have no more manners than I have myself. However, that saves ceremony between us. [He sits down again]. What do you intend to do about this will?
OCTAVIUS. May I make a suggestion?
RAMSDEN. Certainly, Octavius.
OCTAVIUS. Aren’t we forgetting that Ann herself may have some wishes in this matter?
RAMSDEN. I quite intend that Annie’s wishes shall be consulted in every reasonable way. But she is only a woman, and a young and inexperienced woman at that.
TANNER. Ramsden: I begin to pity you.
RAMSDEN. [hotly] I don’t want to know how you feel towards me, Mr Tanner.
TANNER. Ann will do just exactly what she likes. And what’s more, she’ll force us to advise her to do it; and she’ll put the blame on us if it turns out badly. So, as Tavy is longing to see her—
OCTAVIUS. [shyly] I am not, Jack.
TANNER. You lie, Tavy: you are. So let’s have her down from the drawing-room and ask her what she intends us to do. Off with you, Tavy, and fetch her. [Tavy turns to go]. And don’t be long for the strained relations between myself and Ramsden will make the interval rather painful [Ramsden compresses his lips, but says nothing—].
OCTAVIUS. Never mind him, Mr Ramsden. He’s not serious. [He goes out].
RAMSDEN [very deliberately] Mr Tanner: you are the most impudent person I have ever met.
TANNER. [seriously] I know it, Ramsden. Yet even I cannot wholly conquer shame. We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins. Good Lord, my dear Ramsden, we are ashamed to walk, ashamed to ride in an omnibus, ashamed to hire a hansom instead of keeping a carriage, ashamed of keeping one horse instead of two and a groom-gardener instead of a coachman and footman. The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. Why, you’re ashamed to buy my book, ashamed to read it: the only thing you’re not ashamed of is to judge me for it without having read it; and even that only means that you’re ashamed to have heterodox opinions. Look at the effect I produce because my fairy godmother withheld from me this gift of shame. I have every possible virtue that a man can have except—
RAMSDEN. I am glad you think so well of yourself.
TANNER. All you mean by that is that you think I ought to be ashamed of talking about my virtues. You don’t mean that I haven’t got them: you know perfectly well that I am as sober and honest a citizen as yourself, as truthful personally, and much more truthful politically and morally.
RAMSDEN. [touched on his most sensitive point] I deny that. I will not allow you or any man to treat me as if I were a mere member of the British public. I detest its prejudices; I scorn its narrowness; I demand the right to think for myself. You pose as an advanced man. Let me tell you that I was an advanced man before you were born.
TANNER. I knew it was a long time ago.
RAMSDEN. I am as advanced as ever I was. I defy you to prove that I have ever hauled down the flag. I am more advanced than ever I was. I grow more advanced every day.
TANNER. More advanced in years, Polonius.
RAMSDEN. Polonius! So you are Hamlet, I suppose.
TANNER. No: I am only the most impudent person you’ve ever met. That’s your notion of a thoroughly bad character. When you want to give me a piece of your mind, you ask yourself, as a just and upright man, what is the worst you can fairly say of me. Thief, liar, forger, adulterer, perjurer, glutton, drunkard? Not one of these names fit me. You have to fall back on my deficiency in shame. Well, I admit it. I even congratulate myself; for if I were ashamed of my real self, I should cut as stupid a figure as any of the rest of you. Cultivate a little impudence, Ramsden; and you will become quite a remarkable man.
RAMSDEN. I have no—
TANNER. You have no desire for that sort of notoriety. Bless you, I knew that answer would come as well as I know that a box of matches will come out of an automatic machine when I put a penny in the slot: you would be ashamed to say anything else.
The crushing retort for which Ramsden has been visibly collecting his forces is lost for ever; for at this point Octavius returns with Miss Ann Whitefield and her mother; and Ramsden springs up and hurries to the door to receive them. Whether Ann is good-looking or not depends upon your taste; also and perhaps chiefly on your age and sex. To Octavius she is an enchantingly beautiful woman, in whose presence the world becomes transfigured, and the puny limits of individual consciousness are suddenly made infinite by a mystic memory of the whole life of the race to its beginnings in the east, or even back to the paradise from which it fell. She is to him the reality of romance, the leaner good sense of nonsense, the unveiling of his eyes, the freeing of his soul, the abolition of time, place and circumstance, the etherealization of his blood into rapturous rivers of the very water of life itself, the revelation of all the mysteries and the sanctification of all the dogmas. To her mother she is, to put it as moderately as possible, nothing whatever of the kind. Not that Octavius’s admiration is in any way ridiculous or discreditable. Ann is a well formed creature, as far as that goes; and she is perfectly ladylike, graceful, and comely, with ensnaring eyes and hair. Besides, instead of making herself an eyesore, like her mother, she has devised a mourning costume of black and violet silk which does honor to her late father and reveals the family tradition of brave unconventionality by which Ramsden sets such store.
But all this is beside the point as an explanation of Ann’s charm. Turn up her nose, give a cast to her eye, replace her black and violet confection by the apron and feathers of a flower girl, strike all the aitches out of her speech, and Ann would still make men dream. Vitality is as common as humanity; but, like humanity, it sometimes rises to genius; and Ann is one of the vital geniuses. Not at all, if you please, an oversexed person: that is a vital defect, not a true excess. She is a perfectly respectable, perfectly self-controlled woman, and looks it; though her pose is fashionably frank and impulsive. She inspires confidence as a person who will do nothing she does not mean to do; also some fear, perhaps, as a woman who will probably do everything she means to do without taking more account of other people than may be necessary and what she calls right. In short, what the weaker of her own sex sometimes call a cat.
Nothing can be more decorous than her entry and her reception by Ramsden, whom she kisses. The late Mr Whitefield would be gratified almost to impatience by the long faces of the men (except Tanner, who is fidgety), the silent handgrasps, the sympathetic placing of chairs, the sniffing of the widow, and the liquid eye of the daughter, whose heart, apparently, will not let her control her tongue to speech. Ramsden and Octavius take the two chairs from the wall, and place them for the two ladies; but Ann comes to Tanner and takes his chair, which he offers with a brusque gesture, subsequently relieving his irritation by sitting down on the corner of the writing table with studied indecorum. Octavius gives Mrs Whitefield a chair next Ann, and himself takes the vacant one which Ramsden has placed under the nose of the effigy of Mr Herbert Spencer.
Mrs Whitefield, by the way, is a little woman, whose faded flaxen hair looks like straw on an egg. She has an expression of muddled shrewdness, a squeak of protest in her voice, and an odd air of continually elbowing away some larger person who is crushing her into a corner. One guesses her as one of those women who are conscious of being treated as silly and negligible, and who, without having strength enough to assert themselves effectually, at any rate never submit to their fate. There is a touch of chivalry in Octavius’s scrupulous attention to her, even whilst his whole soul is absorbed by Ann.
Ramsden goes solemnly back to his magisterial seat at the writing table, ignoring Tanner, and opens the proceedings.
RAMSDEN. I am sorry, Annie, to force business on you at a sad time like the present. But your poor dear father’s will has raised a very serious question. You have read it, I believe?
[Ann assents with a nod and a catch of her breath, too much affected to speak].
I must say I am surprised to find Mr Tanner named as joint guardian and trustee with myself of you and Rhoda. [A pause. They all look portentous; but they have nothing to say. Ramsden, a little ruffled by the lack of any response, continues] I don’t know that I can consent to act under such conditions. Mr Tanner has, I understand, some objection also; but I do not profess to understand its nature: he will no doubt speak for himself. But we are agreed that we can decide nothing until we know your views. I am afraid I shall have to ask you to choose between my sole guardianship and that of Mr Tanner; for I fear it is impossible for us to undertake a joint arrangement.
ANN. [in a low musical voice] Mamma—
MRS WHITEFIELD. [hastily] Now, Ann, I do beg you not to put it on me. I have no opinion on the subject; and if I had, it would probably not be attended to. I am quite with whatever you three think best.
Tanner turns his head and looks fixedly at Ramsden, who angrily refuses to receive this mute communication.
ANN. [resuming in the same gentle voice, ignoring her mother’s bad taste] Mamma knows that she is not strong enough to bear the whole responsibility for me and Rhoda without some help and advice. Rhoda must have a guardian; and though I am older, I do not think any young unmarried woman should be left quite to her own guidance. I hope you agree with me, Granny?
TANNER. [starting] Granny! Do you intend to call your guardians Granny?
ANN. Don’t be foolish, Jack. Mr Ramsden has always been Grandpapa Roebuck to me: I am Granny’s Annie; and he is Annie’s Granny. I christened him so when I first learned to speak.
RAMSDEN. [sarcastically] I hope you are satisfied, Mr Tanner. Go on, Annie: I quite agree with you.
ANN. Well, if I am to have a guardian, CAN I set aside anybody whom my dear father appointed for me?
RAMSDEN. [biting his lip] You approve of your father’s choice, then?
ANN. It is not for me to approve or disapprove. I accept it. My father loved me and knew best what was good for me.
RAMSDEN. Of course I understand your feeling, Annie. It is what I should have expected of you; and it does you credit. But it does not settle the question so completely as you think. Let me put a case to you. Suppose you were to discover that I had been guilty of some disgraceful action—that I was not the man your poor dear father took me for. Would you still consider it right that I should be Rhoda’s guardian?
ANN. I can’t imagine you doing anything disgraceful, Granny.
TANNER. [to Ramsden] You haven’t done anything of the sort, have you?
RAMSDEN. [indignantly] No sir.
MRS. WHITEFIELD. [placidly] Well, then, why suppose it?
ANN. You see, Granny, Mamma would not like me to suppose it.
RAMSDEN. [much perplexed] You are both so full of natural and affectionate feeling in these family matters that it is very hard to put the situation fairly before you.
TANNER. Besides, my friend, you are not putting the situation fairly before them.
RAMSDEN. [sulkily] Put it yourself, then.
TANNER. I will. Ann: Ramsden thinks I am not fit be your guardian; and I quite agree with him. He considers that if your father had read my book, he wouldn’t have appointed me. That book is the disgraceful action he has been talking about. He thinks it’s your duty for Rhoda’s sake to ask him to act alone and to make me withdraw. Say the word and I will.
ANN. But I haven’t read your book, Jack.
TANNER. [diving at the waste-paper basket and fishing the book out for her] Then read it at once and decide.
RAMSDEN. If I am to be your guardian, I positively forbid you to read that book, Annie. [He smites the table with his fist and rises].
ANN. Of course, if you don’t wish it. [She puts the book on the table].
TANNER. If one guardian is to forbid you to read the other guardian’s book, how are we to settle it? Suppose I order you to read it! What about your duty to me?
ANN. [gently] I am sure you would never purposely force me into a painful dilemma, Jack.
RAMSDEN. [irritably] Yes, yes, Annie: this is all very well, and, as I said, quite natural and becoming. But you must make a choice one way or the other. We are as much in a dilemma as you.
ANN. I feel that I am too young, too inexperienced, to decide. My father’s wishes are sacred to me.
MRS WHITEFIELD. If you two men won’t carry them out I must say it is rather hard that you should put the responsibility on Ann. It seems to me that people are always putting things on other people in this world.
RAMSDEN. I am sorry you take it that way.
ANN. [touchingly] Do you refuse to accept me as your ward, Granny?
RAMSDEN. No: I never said that. I greatly object to act with Mr Tanner: that’s all.
MRS. WHITEFIELD. Why? What’s the matter with poor Jack?
TANNER. My views are too advanced for him.
RAMSDEN. [indignantly] They are not. I deny it.
ANN. Of course not. What nonsense! Nobody is more advanced than Granny. I am sure it is Jack himself who has made all the difficulty. Come, Jack! Be kind to me in my sorrow. You don’t refuse to accept me as your ward, do you?
TANNER. [gloomily] No. I let myself in for it; so I suppose I must face it. [He turns away to the bookcase, and stands there, moodily studying the titles of the volumes].
ANN. [rising and expanding with subdued but gushing delight] Then we are all agreed; and my dear father’s will is to be carried out. You don’t know what a joy that is to me and to my mother! [She goes to Ramsden and presses both his hands, saying] And I shall have my dear Granny to help and advise me. [She casts a glance at Tanner over her shoulder]. And Jack the Giant Killer. [She goes past her mother to Octavius]. And Jack’s inseparable friend Ricky-ticky-tavy [he blushes and looks inexpressibly foolish].
MRS WHITEFIELD. [rising and shaking her widow’s weeds straight] Now that you are Ann’s guardian, Mr Ramsden, I wish you would speak to her about her habit of giving people nicknames. They can’t be expected to like it. [She moves towards the door].
ANN. How can you say such a thing, Mamma! [Glowing with affectionate remorse] Oh, I wonder can you be right! Have I been inconsiderate? [She turns to Octavius, who is sitting astride his chair with his elbows on the back of it. Putting her hand on his forehead she turns his face up suddenly]. Do you want to be treated like a grown up man? Must I call you Mr Robinson in future?
OCTAVIUS. [earnestly] Oh please call me Ricky-ticky-tavy, “Mr Robinson” would hurt me cruelly. [She laughs and pats his cheek with her finger; then comes back to Ramsden]. You know I’m beginning to think that Granny is rather a piece of impertinence. But I never dreamt of its hurting you.
RAMSDEN. [breezily, as he pats her affectionately on the back] My dear Annie, nonsense. I insist on Granny. I won’t answer to any other name than Annie’s Granny.
ANN. [gratefully] You all spoil me, except Jack.
TANNER. [over his shoulder, from the bookcase] I think you ought to call me Mr Tanner.
ANN. [gently] No you don’t, Jack. That’s like the things you say on purpose to shock people: those who know you pay no attention to them. But, if you like, I’ll call you after your famous ancestor Don Juan.
RAMSDEN. Don Juan!
ANN. [innocently] Oh, is there any harm in it? I didn’t know. Then I certainly won’t call you that. May I call you Jack until I can think of something else?
TANKER. Oh, for Heaven’s sake don’t try to invent anything worse. I capitulate. I consent to Jack. I embrace Jack. Here endeth my first and last attempt to assert my authority.
ANN. You see, Mamma, they all really like to have pet names.
MRS WHITEFIELD. Well, I think you might at least drop them until we are out of mourning.
ANN. [reproachfully, stricken to the soul] Oh, how could you remind me, mother? [She hastily leaves the room to conceal her emotion].
MRS WHITEFIELD. Of course. My fault as usual! [She follows Ann].
TANNER. [coming from the bockcase] Ramsden: we’re beaten—smashed—nonentitized, like her mother.
RAMSDEN. Stuff, Sir. [He follows Mrs Whitefield out of the room].
TANNER. [left alone with Octavius, stares whimsically at him] Tavy: do you want to count for something in the world?
OCTAVIUS. I want to count for something as a poet: I want to write a great play.
TANNER. With Ann as the heroine?
OCTAVIUS. Yes: I confess it.
TANNER. Take care, Tavy. The play with Ann as the heroine is all right; but if you’re not very careful, by Heaven she’ll marry you.
OCTAVIUS. [sighing] No such luck, Jack!
TANNER. Why, man, your head is in the lioness’s mouth: you are half swallowed already—in three bites—Bite One, Ricky; Bite Two, Ticky; Bite Three, Tavy; and down you go.
OCTAVIUS. She is the same to everybody, Jack: you know her ways.
TANNER. Yes: she breaks everybody’s back with the stroke of her paw; but the question is, which of us will she eat? My own opinion is that she means to eat you.
OCTAVIUS. [rising, pettishly] It’s horrible to talk like that about her when she is upstairs crying for her father. But I do so want her to eat me that I can bear your brutalities because they give me hope.
TANNER. Tavy; that’s the devilish side of a woman’s fascination: she makes you will your own destruction.
OCTAVIUS. But it’s not destruction: it’s fulfilment.
TANNER. Yes, of HER purpose; and that purpose is neither her happiness nor yours, but Nature’s. Vitality in a woman is a blind fury of creation. She sacrifices herself to it: do you think she will hesitate to sacrifice you?
OCTAVIUS. Why, it is just because she is self-sacrificing that she will not sacrifice those she loves.
TANNER. That is the profoundest of mistakes, Tavy. It is the self-sacrificing women that sacrifice others most recklessly. Because they are unselfish, they are kind in little things. Because they have a purpose which is not their own purpose, but that of the whole universe, a man is nothing to them but an instrument of that purpose.
OCTAVIUS. Don’t be ungenerous, Jack. They take the tenderest care of us.
TANNER. Yes, as a soldier takes care of his rifle or a musician of his violin. But do they allow us any purpose or freedom of our own? Will they lend us to one another? Can the strongest man escape from them when once he is appropriated? They tremble when we are in danger, and weep when we die; but the tears are not for us, but for a father wasted, a son’s breeding thrown away. They accuse us of treating them as a mere means to our pleasure; but how can so feeble and transient a folly as a man’s selfish pleasure enslave a woman as the whole purpose of Nature embodied in a woman can enslave a man?
OCTAVIUS. What matter, if the slavery makes us happy?
TANNER. No matter at all if you have no purpose of your own, and are, like most men, a mere breadwinner. But you, Tavy, are an artist: that is, you have a purpose as absorbing and as unscrupulous as a woman’s purpose.
OCTAVIUS. Not unscrupulous.
TANNER. Quite unscrupulous. The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art. To women he is half vivisector, half vampire. He gets into intimate relations with them to study them, to strip the mask of convention from them, to surprise their inmost secrets, knowing that they have the power to rouse his deepest creative energies, to rescue him from his cold reason, to make him see visions and dream dreams, to inspire him, as he calls it. He persuades women that they may do this for their own purpose whilst he really means them to do it for his. He steals the mother’s milk and blackens it to make printer’s ink to scoff at her and glorify ideal women with. He pretends to spare her the pangs of childbearing so that he may have for himself the tenderness and fostering that belong of right to her children. Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a bloodsucker, a hypocrite and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy! For mark you, Tavy, the artist’s work is to show us ourselves as we really are. Our minds are nothing but this knowledge of ourselves; and he who adds a jot to such knowledge creates new mind as surely as any woman creates new men. In the rage of that creation he is as ruthless as the woman, as dangerous to her as she to him, and as horribly fascinating. Of all human struggles there is none so treacherous and remorseless as the struggle between the artist man and the mother woman. Which shall use up the other? that is the issue between them. And it is all the deadlier because, in your romanticist cant, they love one another.
OCTAVIUS. Even if it were so—and I don’t admit it for a moment—it is out of the deadliest struggles that we get the noblest characters.
TANNER. Remember that the next time you meet a grizzly bear or a Bengal tiger, Tavy.
OCTAVIUS. I meant where there is love, Jack.
TANNER. Oh, the tiger will love you. There is no love sincerer than the love of food. I think Ann loves you that way: she patted your cheek as if it were a nicely underdone chop.
OCTAVIUS. You know, Jack, I should have to run away from you if I did not make it a fixed rule not to mind anything you say. You come out with perfectly revolting things sometimes.
Ramsden returns, followed by Ann. They come in quickly, with their former leisurely air of decorous grief changed to one of genuine concern, and, on Ramsden’s part, of worry. He comes between the two men, intending to address Octavius, but pulls himself up abruptly as he sees Tanner.
RAMSDEN. I hardly expected to find you still here, Mr Tanner.
TANNER. Am I in the way? Good morning, fellow guardian [he goes towards the door].
ANN. Stop, Jack. Granny: he must know, sooner or later.
RAMSDEN. Octavius: I have a very serious piece of news for you. It is of the most private and delicate nature—of the most painful nature too, I am sorry to say. Do you wish Mr Tanner to be present whilst I explain?
OCTAVIUS. [turning pale] I have no secrets from Jack.
RAMSDEN. Before you decide that finally, let me say that the news concerns your sister, and that it is terrible news.
OCTAVIUS. Violet! What has happened? Is she—dead?
RAMSDEN. I am not sure that it is not even worse than that.
OCTAVIUS. Is she badly hurt? Has there been an accident?
RAMSDEN. No: nothing of that sort.
TANNER. Ann: will you have the common humanity to tell us what the matter is?
ANN. [half whispering] I can’t. Violet has done something dreadful. We shall have to get her away somewhere. [She flutters to the writing table and sits in Ramsden’s chair, leaving the three men to fight it out between them].
OCTAVIUS. [enlightened] Is that what you meant, Mr Ramsden?
RAMSDEN. Yes. [Octavius sinks upon a chair, crushed]. I am afraid there is no doubt that Violet did not really go to Eastbourne three weeks ago when we thought she was with the Parry Whitefields. And she called on a strange doctor yesterday with a wedding ring on her finger. Mrs. Parry Whitefield met her there by chance; and so the whole thing came out.
OCTAVIUS. [rising with his fists clenched] Who is the scoundrel?
ANN. She won’t tell us.
OCTAVIUS. [collapsing upon his chair again] What a frightful thing!
TANNER. [with angry sarcasm] Dreadful. Appalling. Worse than death, as Ramsden says. [He comes to Octavius]. What would you not give, Tavy, to turn it into a railway accident, with all her bones broken or something equally respectable and deserving of sympathy?
OCTAVIUS. Don’t be brutal, Jack.
TANNER. Brutal! Good Heavens, man, what are you crying for? Here is a woman whom we all supposed to be making bad water color sketches, practising Grieg and Brahms, gadding about to concerts and parties, wasting her life and her money. We suddenly learn that she has turned from these sillinesses to the fulfilment of her highest purpose and greatest function—to increase, multiply and replenish the earth. And instead of admiring her courage and rejoicing in her instinct; instead of crowning the completed womanhood and raising the triumphal strain of “Unto us a child is born: unto us a son is given,” here you are—you who have been as merry as Brigs in your mourning for the dead—all pulling long faces and looking as ashamed and disgraced as if the girl had committed the vilest of crimes.
RAMSDEN. [roaring with rage] I will not have these abominations uttered in my house [he smites the writing table with his fist].
TANNER. Look here: if you insult me again I’ll take you at your word and leave your house. Ann: where is Violet now?
ANN. Why? Are you going to her?
TANNER. Of course I am going to her. She wants help; she wants money; she wants respect and congratulation. She wants every chance for her child. She does not seem likely to get it from you: she shall from me. Where is she?
ANN. Don’t be so headstrong, Jack. She’s upstairs.
TANNER. What! Under Ramsden’s sacred roof! Go and do your miserable duty, Ramsden. Hunt her out into the street. Cleanse your threshold from her contamination. Vindicate the purity of your English home. I’ll go for a cab.
ANN. [alarmed] Oh, Granny, you mustn’t do that.
OCTAVIUS. [broken-heartedly, rising] I’ll take her away, Mr Ramsden. She had no right to come to your house.
RAMSDEN. [indignantly] But I am only too anxious to help her. [turning on Tanner] How dare you, sir, impute such monstrous intentions to me? I protest against it. I am ready to put down my last penny to save her from being driven to run to you for protection.
TANNER. [subsiding] It’s all right, then. He’s not going to act up to his principles. It’s agreed that we all stand by Violet.
OCTAVIUS. But who is the man? He can make reparation by marrying her; and he shall, or he shall answer for it to me.
RAMSDEN. He shall, Octavius. There you speak like a man.
TANNER. Then you don’t think him a scoundrel, after all?
OCTAVIUS. Not a scoundrel! He is a heartless scoundrel.
RAMSDEN. A damned scoundrel. I beg your pardon, Annie; but I can say no less.
TANNER. So we are to marry your sister to a damned scoundrel by way of reforming her character! On my soul, I think you are all mad.
ANN. Don’t be absurd, Jack. Of course you are quite right, Tavy; but we don’t know who he is: Violet won’t tell us.
TANNER. What on earth does it matter who he is? He’s done his part; and Violet must do the rest.
RAMSDEN. [beside himself] Stuff! lunacy! There is a rascal in our midst, a libertine, a villain worse than a murderer; and we are not to learn who he is! In our ignorance we are to shake him by the hand; to introduce him into our homes; to trust our daughters with him; to—to—
ANN. [coaxingly] There, Granny, don’t talk so loud. It’s most shocking: we must all admit that; but if Violet won’t tell us, what can we do? Nothing. Simply nothing.
RAMSDEN. Hmph! I’m not so sure of that. If any man has paid Violet any special attention, we can easily find that out. If there is any man of notoriously loose principles among us—
RAMSDEN. [raising his voice] Yes sir, I repeat, if there is any man of notoriously loose principles among us—
TANNER. Or any man notoriously lacking in self-control.
RAMSDEN. [aghast] Do you dare to suggest that I am capable of such an act?
TANNER. My dear Ramsden, this is an act of which every man is capable. That is what comes of getting at cross purposes with Nature. The suspicion you have just flung at me clings to us all. It’s a sort of mud that sticks to the judge’s ermine or the cardinal’s robe as fast as to the rags of the tramp. Come, Tavy: don’t look so bewildered: it might have been me: it might have been Ramsden; just as it might have been anybody. If it had, what could we do but lie and protest as Ramsden is going to protest.
RAMSDEN. [choking] I—I—I—
TANNER. Guilt itself could not stammer more confusedly, And yet you know perfectly well he’s innocent, Tavy.
RAMSDEN. [exhausted] I am glad you admit that, sir. I admit, myself, that there is an element of truth in what you say, grossly as you may distort it to gratify your malicious humor. I hope, Octavius, no suspicion of me is possible in your mind.
OCTAVIUS. Of you! No, not for a moment.
TANNER. [drily] I think he suspects me just a little.
OCTAVIUS. Jack: you couldn’t—you wouldn’t—
TANNER. Why not?
OCTAVIUS. [appalled] Why not!
TANNER. Oh, well, I’ll tell you why not. First, you would feel bound to quarrel with me. Second, Violet doesn’t like me. Third, if I had the honor of being the father of Violet’s child, I should boast of it instead of denying it. So be easy: our Friendship is not in danger.
OCTAVIUS. I should have put away the suspicion with horror if only you would think and feel naturally about it. I beg your pardon.
TANNER. MY pardon! nonsense! And now let’s sit down and have a family council. [He sits down. The rest follow his example, more or less under protest]. Violet is going to do the State a service; consequently she must be packed abroad like a criminal until it’s over. What’s happening upstairs?
ANN. Violet is in the housekeeper’s room—by herself, of course.
TANNER. Why not in the drawingroom?
ANN. Don’t be absurd, Jack. Miss Ramsden is in the drawingroom with my mother, considering what to do.
TANNER. Oh! the housekeeper’s room is the penitentiary, I suppose; and the prisoner is waiting to be brought before her judges. The old cats!
ANN. Oh, Jack!
RAMSDEN. You are at present a guest beneath the roof of one of the old cats, sir. My sister is the mistress of this house.
TANNER. She would put me in the housekeeper’s room, too, if she dared, Ramsden. However, I withdraw cats. Cats would have more sense. Ann: as your guardian, I order you to go to Violet at once and be particularly kind to her.
ANN. I have seen her, Jack. And I am sorry to say I am afraid she is going to be rather obstinate about going abroad. I think Tavy ought to speak to her about it.
OCTAVIUS. How can I speak to her about such a thing [he breaks down]?
ANN. Don’t break down, Ricky. Try to bear it for all our sakes.
RAMSDEN. Life is not all plays and poems, Octavius. Come! face it like a man.
TANNER. [chafing again] Poor dear brother! Poor dear friends of the family! Poor dear Tabbies and Grimalkins. Poor dear everybody except the woman who is going to risk her life to create another life! Tavy: don’t you be a selfish ass. Away with you and talk to Violet; and bring her down here if she cares to come. [Octavius rises]. Tell her we’ll stand by her.
RAMSDEN. [rising] No, sir—
TANNER. [rising also and interrupting him] Oh, we understand: it’s against your conscience; but still you’ll do it.
OCTAVIUS. I assure you all, on my word, I never meant to be selfish. It’s so hard to know what to do when one wishes earnestly to do right.
TANNER. My dear Tavy, your pious English habit of regarding the world as a moral gymnasium built expressly to strengthen your character in, occasionally leads you to think about your own confounded principles when you should be thinking about other people’s necessities. The need of the present hour is a happy mother and a healthy baby. Bend your energies on that; and you will see your way clearly enough.
Octavius, much perplexed, goes out.
RAMSDEN. [facing Tanner impressively] And Morality, sir? What is to become of that?
TANNER. Meaning a weeping Magdalen and an innocent child branded with her shame. Not in our circle, thank you. Morality can go to its father the devil.
RAMSDEN. I thought so, sir. Morality sent to the devil to please our libertines, male and female. That is to be the future of England, is it?
TANNER. Oh, England will survive your disapproval. Meanwhile, I understand that you agree with me as to the practical course we are to take?
RAMSDEN. Not in your spirit sir. Not for your reasons.
TANNER. You can explain that if anybody calls you to account, here or hereafter. [He turns away, and plants himself in front of Mr Herbert Spencer, at whom he stares gloomily].
ANN. [rising and coming to Ramsden] Granny: hadn’t you better go up to the drawingroom and tell them what we intend to do?
RAMSDEN. [looking pointedly at Tanner] I hardly like to leave you alone with this gentleman. Will you not come with me?
ANN. Miss Ramsden would not like to speak about it before me, Granny. I ought not to be present.
RAMSDEN. You are right: I should have thought of that. You are a good girl, Annie.
He pats her on the shoulder. She looks up at him with beaming eyes and he goes out, much moved. Having disposed of him, she looks at Tanner. His back being turned to her, she gives a moment’s attention to her personal appearance, then softly goes to him and speaks almost into his ear.
ANN. Jack [he turns with a start]: are you glad that you are my guardian? You don’t mind being made responsible for me, I hope.
TANNER. The latest addition to your collection of scapegoats, eh?
ANN. Oh, that stupid old joke of yours about me! Do please drop it. Why do you say things that you know must pain me? I do my best to please you, Jack: I suppose I may tell you so now that you are my guardian. You will make me so unhappy if you refuse to be friends with me.
TANNER. [studying her as gloomily as he studied the dust] You need not go begging for my regard. How unreal our moral judgments are! You seem to me to have absolutely no conscience—only hypocrisy; and you can’t see the difference—yet there is a sort of fascination about you. I always attend to you, somehow. I should miss you if I lost you.
ANN. [tranquilly slipping her arm into his and walking about with him] But isn’t that only natural, Jack? We have known each other since we were children. Do you remember?
TANNER. [abruptly breaking loose] Stop! I remember EVERYTHING.
ANN. Oh, I daresay we were often very silly; but—
TANNER. I won’t have it, Ann. I am no more that schoolboy now than I am the dotard of ninety I shall grow into if I live long enough. It is over: let me forget it.
ANN. Wasn’t it a happy time? [She attempts to take his arm again].
TANNER. Sit down and behave yourself. [He makes her sit down in the chair next the writing table]. No doubt it was a happy time for you. You were a good girl and never compromised yourself. And yet the wickedest child that ever was slapped could hardly have had a better time. I can understand the success with which you bullied the other girls: your virtue imposed on them. But tell me this: did you ever know a good boy?
ANN. Of course. All boys are foolish sometimes; but Tavy was always a really good boy.
TANNER. [struck by this] Yes: you’re right. For some reason you never tempted Tavy.
ANN. Tempted! Jack!
TANNER. Yes, my dear Lady Mephistopheles, tempted. You were insatiably curious as to what a boy might be capable of, and diabolically clever at getting through his guard and surprising his inmost secrets.
ANN. What nonsense! All because you used to tell me long stories of the wicked things you had done—silly boys tricks! And you call such things inmost secrets: Boys’ secrets are just like men’s; and you know what they are!
TANNER. [obstinately] No I don’t. What are they, pray?
ANN. Why, the things they tell everybody, of course.
TANNER. Now I swear I told you things I told no one else. You lured me into a compact by which we were to have no secrets from one another. We were to tell one another everything, I didn’t notice that you never told me anything.
ANN. You didn’t want to talk about me, Jack. You wanted to talk about yourself.
TANNER. Ah, true, horribly true. But what a devil of a child you must have been to know that weakness and to play on it for the satisfaction of your own curiosity! I wanted to brag to you, to make myself interesting. And I found myself doing all sorts of mischievous things simply to have something to tell you about. I fought with boys I didn’t hate; I lied about things I might just as well have told the truth about; I stole things I didn’t want; I kissed little girls I didn’t care for. It was all bravado: passionless and therefore unreal.
ANN. I never told of you, Jack.
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.
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.
MISS RAMSDEN. [almost pushing Ann aside as she comes to Mr. Whitefield’s chair and plants herself there resolutely] I wash my hands of the whole affair.
OCTAVIUS. [very wretched] I know you wish me to take Violet away, Miss Ramsden. I will. [He turns irresolutely to the door].
RAMSDEN. No no—
MISS RAMSDEN. What is the use of saying no, Roebuck? Octavius knows that I would not turn any truly contrite and repentant woman from your doors. But when a woman is not only wicked, but intends to go on being wicked, she and I part company.
ANN. Oh, Miss Ramsden, what do you mean? What has Violet said?
RAMSDEN. Violet is certainly very obstinate. She won’t leave London. I don’t understand her.
MISS RAMSDEN. I do. It’s as plain as the nose on your face, Roebuck, that she won’t go because she doesn’t want to be separated from this man, whoever he is.
ANN. Oh, surely, surely! Octavius: did you speak to her?
OCTAVIUS. She won’t tell us anything. She won’t make any arrangement until she has consulted somebody. It can’t be anybody else than the scoundrel who has betrayed her.
TANNER. [to Octavius] Well, let her consult him. He will be glad enough to have her sent abroad. Where is the difficulty?
MISS RAMSDEN. [Taking the answer out of Octavius’s mouth]. The difficulty, Mr Jack, is that when he offered to help her I didn’t offer to become her accomplice in her wickedness. She either pledges her word never to see that man again, or else she finds some new friends; and the sooner the better.
[The parlormaid appears at the door. Ann hastily resumes her seat, and looks as unconcerned as possible. Octavius instinctively imitates her].
THE MAID. The cab is at the door, ma’am.
MISS RAMSDEN. What cab?
THE MAID. For Miss Robinson.
MISS RAMSDEN. Oh! [Recovering herself] All right. [The maid withdraws]. She has sent for a cab.
TANNER. I wanted to send for that cab half an hour ago.
MISS RAMSDEN. I am glad she understands the position she has placed herself in.
RAMSDEN. I don’t like her going away in this fashion, Susan. We had better not do anything harsh.
OCTAVIUS. No: thank you again and again; but Miss Ramsden is quite right. Violet cannot expect to stay.
ANN. Hadn’t you better go with her, Tavy?
OCTAVIUS. She won’t have me.
MISS RAMSDEN. Of course she won’t. She’s going straight to that man.
TANNER. As a natural result of her virtuous reception here.
RAMSDEN. [much troubled] There, Susan! You hear! and there’s some truth in it. I wish you could reconcile it with your principles to be a little patient with this poor girl. She’s very young; and there’s a time for everything.
MISS RAMSDEN. Oh, she will get all the sympathy she wants from the men. I’m surprised at you, Roebuck.
TANNER. So am I, Ramsden, most favorably.
Violet appears at the door. She is as impenitent and self-assured a young lady as one would desire to see among the best behaved of her sex. Her small head and tiny resolute mouth and chin; her haughty crispness of speech and trimness of carriage; the ruthless elegance of her equipment, which includes a very smart hat with a dead bird in it, mark a personality which is as formidable as it is exquisitely pretty. She is not a siren, like Ann: admiration comes to her without any compulsion or even interest on her part; besides, there is some fun in Ann, but in this woman none, perhaps no mercy either: if anything restrains her, it is intelligence and pride, not compassion. Her voice might be the voice of a schoolmistress addressing a class of girls who had disgraced themselves, as she proceeds with complete composure and some disgust to say what she has come to say.
VIOLET. I have only looked in to tell Miss Ramsden that she will find her birthday present to me, the filagree bracelet, in the housekeeper’s room.
TANNER. Do come in, Violet, and talk to us sensibly.
VIOLET. Thank you: I have had quite enough of the family conversation this morning. So has your mother, Ann: she has gone home crying. But at all events, I have found out what some of my pretended friends are worth. Good bye.
TANNER. No, no: one moment. I have something to say which I beg you to hear. [She looks at him without the slightest curiosity, but waits, apparently as much to finish getting her glove on as to hear what he has to say]. I am altogether on your side in this matter. I congratulate you, with the sincerest respect, on having the courage to do what you have done. You are entirely in the right; and the family is entirely in the wrong.
Sensation. Ann and Miss Ramsden rise and turn toward the two. Violet, more surprised than any of the others, forgets her glove, and comes forward into the middle of the room, both puzzled and displeased. Octavius alone does not move or raise his head; he is overwhelmed with shame.
ANN. [pleading to Tanner to be sensible] Jack!
MISS RAMSDEN. [outraged] Well, I must say!
VIOLET. [sharply to Tanner] Who told you?
TANNER. Why, Ramsden and Tavy of course. Why should they not?
VIOLET. But they don’t know.
TANNER. Don’t know what?
VIOLET. They don’t know that I am in the right, I mean.
TANNER. Oh, they know it in their hearts, though they think themselves bound to blame you by their silly superstitions about morality and propriety and so forth. But I know, and the whole world really knows, though it dare not say so, that you were right to follow your instinct; that vitality and bravery are the greatest qualities a woman can have, and motherhood her solemn initiation into womanhood; and that the fact of your not being legally married matters not one scrap either to your own worth or to our real regard for you.
VIOLET. [flushing with indignation] Oh! You think me a wicked woman, like the rest. You think I have not only been vile, but that I share your abominable opinions. Miss Ramsden: I have borne your hard words because I knew you would be sorry for them when you found out the truth. But I won’t bear such a horrible insult as to be complimented by Jack on being one of the wretches of whom he approves. I have kept my marriage a secret for my husband’s sake. But now I claim my right as a married woman not to be insulted.
OCTAVIUS. [raising his head with inexpressible relief] You are married!
VIOLET. Yes; and I think you might have guessed it. What business had you all to take it for granted that I had no right to wear my wedding ring? Not one of you even asked me: I cannot forget that.
TANNER. [in ruins] I am utterly crushed. I meant well—I apologize—abjectly apologize.
VIOLET. I hope you will be more careful in future about the things you say. Of course one does not take them seriously. But they are very disagreeable, and rather in bad taste.
TANNER. [bowing to the storm] I have no defence: I shall know better in future than to take any woman’s part. We have all disgraced ourselves in your eyes, I am afraid, except Ann, SHE befriended you. For Ann’s sake, forgive us.
VIOLET. Yes: Ann has been very kind; but then Ann knew.
MISS RAMSDEN. [stiffly] And who, pray, is the gentleman who does not acknowledge his wife?
VIOLET. [promptly] That is my business, Miss Ramsden, and not yours. I have my reasons for keeping my marriage a secret for the present.
RAMSDEN. All I can say is that we are extremely sorry, Violet. I am shocked to think of how we have treated you.
OCTAVIUS. [awkwardly] I beg your pardon, Violet. I can say no more.
MISS RAMSDEN. [still loth to surrender] Of course what you say puts a very different complexion on the matter. All the same, I owe it to myself—
VIOLET. [cutting her short] You owe me an apology, Miss Ramsden: that’s what you owe both to yourself and to me. If you were a married woman you would not like sitting in the housekeeper’s room and being treated like a naughty child by young girls and old ladies without any serious duties and responsibilities.
TANNER. Don’t hit us when we’re down, Violet. We seem to have made fools of ourselves; but really it was you who made fools of us.
VIOLET. It was no business of yours, Jack, in any case.
TANNER. No business of mine! Why, Ramsden as good as accused me of being the unknown gentleman.
Ramsden makes a frantic demonstration; but Violet’s cool keen anger extinguishes it.
VIOLET. You! Oh, how infamous! how abominable! How disgracefully you have all been talking about me! If my husband knew it he would never let me speak to any of you again. [To Ramsden] I think you might have spared me, at least.
RAMSDEN. But I assure you I never—at least it is a monstrous perversion of something I said that—
MISS RAMSDEN. You needn’t apologize, Roebuck. She brought it all on herself. It is for her to apologize for having deceived us.
VIOLET. I can make allowances for you, Miss Ramsden: you cannot understand how I feel on this subject though I should have expected rather better taste from people of greater experience. However, I quite feel that you have all placed yourselves in a very painful position; and the most truly considerate thing for me to do is to go at once. Good morning.
She goes, leaving them staring.
Miss RAMSDEN. Well, I must say—!
RAMSDEN. [plaintively] I don’t think she is quite fair to us.
TANNER. You must cower before the wedding ring like the rest of us, Ramsden. The cup of our ignominy is full.
On the carriage drive in the park of a country house near Richmond a motor car has broken down. It stands in front of a clump of trees round which the drive sweeps to the house, which is partly visible through them: indeed Tanner, standing in the drive with the car on his right hand, could get an unobstructed view of the west corner of the house on his left were he not far too much interested in a pair of supine legs in blue serge trousers which protrude from beneath the machine. He is watching them intently with bent back and hands supported on his knees. His leathern overcoat and peaked cap proclaim him one of the dismounted passengers.
THE LEGS. Aha! I got him.
TANNER. All right now?
THE LEGS. All right now.
Tanner stoops and takes the legs by the ankles, drawing their owner forth like a wheelbarrow, walking on his hands, with a hammer in his mouth. He is a young man in a neat suit of blue serge, clean shaven, dark eyed, square fingered, with short well brushed black hair and rather irregular sceptically turned eyebrows. When he is manipulating the car his movements are swift and sudden, yet attentive and deliberate. With Tanner and Tanner’s friends his manner is not in the least deferential, but cool and reticent, keeping them quite effectually at a distance whilst giving them no excuse for complaining of him. Nevertheless he has a vigilant eye on them always, and that, too, rather cynically, like a man who knows the world well from its seamy side. He speaks slowly and with a touch of sarcasm; and as he does not at all affect the gentleman in his speech, it may be inferred that his smart appearance is a mark of respect to himself and his own class, not to that which employs him.
He now gets into the car to test his machinery and put his cap and overcoat on again. Tanner takes off his leather overcoat and pitches it into the car. The chauffeur (or automobilist or motoreer or whatever England may presently decide to call him) looks round inquiringly in the act of stowing away his hammer.
THE CHAUFFEUR. Had enough of it, eh?
TANNER. I may as well walk to the house and stretch my legs and calm my nerves a little. [Looking at his watch] I suppose you know that we have come from Hyde Park Corner to Richmond in twenty-one minutes.
THE CHAUFFEUR. I’d have done it under fifteen if I’d had a clear road all the way.
TANNER. Why do you do it? Is it for love of sport or for the fun of terrifying your unfortunate employer?
THE CHAUFFEUR. What are you afraid of?
TANNER. The police, and breaking my neck.
THE CHAUFFEUR. Well, if you like easy going, you can take a bus, you know. It’s cheaper. You pay me to save your time and give you the value of your thousand pound car. [He sits down calmly].
TANNER. I am the slave of that car and of you too. I dream of the accursed thing at night.
THE CHAUFFEUR. You’ll get over that. If you’re going up to the house, may I ask how long you’re goin to stay there? Because if you mean to put in the whole morning talkin to the ladies, I’ll put the car in the stables and make myself comfortable. If not, I’ll keep the car on the go about here til you come.
TANNER. Better wait here. We shan’t be long. There’s a young American gentleman, a Mr Malone, who is driving Mr Robinson down in his new American steam car.
THE CHAUFFEUR. [springing up and coming hastily out of the car to Tanner] American steam car! Wot! racin us down from London!
TANNER. Perhaps they’re here already.
THE CHAUFFEUR. If I’d known it! [with deep reproach] Why didn’t you tell me, Mr Tanner?
TANNER. Because I’ve been told that this car is capable of 84 miles an hour; and I already know what YOU are capable of when there is a rival car on the road. No, Henry: there are things it is not good for you to know; and this was one of them. However, cheer up: we are going to have a day after your own heart. The American is to take Mr Robinson and his sister and Miss Whitefield. We are to take Miss Rhoda.
THE CHAUFFEUR. [consoled, and musing on another matter] That’s Miss Whitefield’s sister, isn’t it?
THE CHAUFFEUR. And Miss Whitefield herself is goin in the other car? Not with you?
TANNER. Why the devil should she come with me? Mr Robinson will be in the other car. [The Chauffeur looks at Tanner with cool incredulity, and turns to the car, whistling a popular air softly to himself. Tanner, a little annoyed, is about to pursue the subject when he hears the footsteps of Octavius on the gravel. Octavius is coming from the house, dressed for motoring, but without his overcoat]. We’ve lost the race, thank Heaven: here’s Mr Robinson. Well, Tavy, is the steam car a success?
OCTAVIUS. I think so. We came from Hyde Park Corner here in seventeen minutes. [The Chauffeur, furious, kicks the car with a groan of vexation]. How long were you?
TANNER. Oh, about three quarters of an hour or so.
THE CHAUFFEUR. [remonstrating] Now, now, Mr Tanner, come now! We could ha done it easy under fifteen.
TANNER. By the way, let me introduce you. Mr Octavius Robinson: Mr Enry Straker.
STRAKER. Pleased to meet you, sir. Mr Tanner is gittin at you with his Enry Straker, you know. You call it Henery. But I don’t mind, bless you.
TANNER. You think it’s simply bad taste in me to chaff him, Tavy. But you’re wrong. This man takes more trouble to drop his aiches than ever his father did to pick them up. It’s a mark of caste to him. I have never met anybody more swollen with the pride of class than Enry is.
STRAKER. Easy, easy! A little moderation, Mr Tanner.
TANNER. A little moderation, Tavy, you observe. You would tell me to draw it mild, But this chap has been educated. What’s more, he knows that we haven’t. What was that board school of yours, Straker?
STRAKER. Sherbrooke Road.
TANNER. Sherbrooke Road! Would any of us say Rugby! Harrow! Eton! in that tone of intellectual snobbery? Sherbrooke Road is a place where boys learn something; Eton is a boy farm where we are sent because we are nuisances at home, and because in after life, whenever a Duke is mentioned, we can claim him as an old schoolfellow.
STRAKER. You don’t know nothing about it, Mr. Tanner. It’s not the Board School that does it: it’s the Polytechnic.
TANNER. His university, Octavius. Not Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Dublin or Glasgow. Not even those Nonconformist holes in Wales. No, Tavy. Regent Street, Chelsea, the Borough—I don’t know half their confounded names: these are his universities, not mere shops for selling class limitations like ours. You despise Oxford, Enry, don’t you?
STRAKER. No, I don’t. Very nice sort of place, Oxford, I should think, for people that like that sort of place. They teach you to be a gentleman there. In the Polytechnic they teach you to be an engineer or such like. See?
TANNER. Sarcasm, Tavy, sarcasm! Oh, if you could only see into Enry’s soul, the depth of his contempt for a gentleman, the arrogance of his pride in being an engineer, would appal you. He positively likes the car to break down because it brings out my gentlemanly helplessness and his workmanlike skill and resource.
STRAKER. Never you mind him, Mr Robinson. He likes to talk. We know him, don’t we?
OCTAVIUS. [earnestly] But there’s a great truth at the bottom of what he says. I believe most intensely in the dignity of labor.
STRAKER. [unimpressed] That’s because you never done any, Mr Robinson. My business is to do away with labor. You’ll get more out of me and a machine than you will out of twenty laborers, and not so much to drink either.
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.
OCTAVIUS.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.
TANNER. How many killed?
STRAKER. Two silly sheep. What does it matter? Sheep don’t cost such a lot: they were glad to ave the price without the trouble o sellin em to the butcher. All the same, d’y’see, there’ll be a clamor agin it presently; and then the French Government’ll stop it; an our chance will be gone see? That what makes me fairly mad: Mr Tanner won’t do a good run while he can.
TANNER. Tavy: do you remember my uncle James?
OCTAVIUS. Yes. Why?
TANNER. Uncle James had a first rate cook: he couldn’t digest anything except what she cooked. Well, the poor man was shy and hated society. But his cook was proud of her skill, and wanted to serve up dinners to princes and ambassadors. To prevent her from leaving him, that poor old man had to give a big dinner twice a month, and suffer agonies of awkwardness. Now here am I; and here is this chap Enry Straker, the New Man. I loathe travelling; but I rather like Enry. He cares for nothing but tearing along in a leather coat and goggles, with two inches of dust all over him, at sixty miles an hour and the risk of his life and mine. Except, of course, when he is lying on his back in the mud under the machine trying to find out where it has given way. Well, if I don’t give him a thousand mile run at least once a fortnight I shall lose him. He will give me the sack and go to some American millionaire; and I shall have to put up with a nice respectful groom-gardener-amateur, who will touch his hat and know his place. I am Enry’s slave, just as Uncle James was his cook’s slave.
STRAKER. [exasperated] Garn! I wish I had a car that would go as fast as you can talk, Mr Tanner. What I say is that you lose money by a motor car unless you keep it workin. Might as well ave a pram and a nussmaid to wheel you in it as that car and me if you don’t git the last inch out of us both.
TANNER. [soothingly] All right, Henry, all right. We’ll go out for half an hour presently.
STRAKER. [in disgust] Arf an ahr! [He returns to his machine; seats himself in it; and turns up a fresh page of his paper in search of more news].
OCTAVIUS. Oh, that reminds me. I have a note for you from Rhoda. [He gives Tanner a note].
TANNER. [opening it] I rather think Rhoda is heading for a row with Ann. As a rule there is only one person an English girl hates more than she hates her mother; and that’s her eldest sister. But Rhoda positively prefers her mother to Ann. She—[indignantly] Oh, I say!
OCTAVIUS. What’s the matter?
TANNER. Rhoda was to have come with me for a ride in the motor car. She says Ann has forbidden her to go out with me.
Straker suddenly begins whistling his favorite air with remarkable deliberation. Surprised by this burst of larklike melody, and jarred by a sardonic note in its cheerfulness, they turn and look inquiringly at him. But he is busy with his paper; and nothing comes of their movement.
OCTAVIUS. [recovering himself] Does she give any reason?
TANNER. Reason! An insult is not a reason. Ann forbids her to be alone with me on any occasion. Says I am not a fit person for a young girl to be with. What do you think of your paragon now?
OCTAVIUS. You must remember that she has a very heavy responsibility now that her father is dead. Mrs Whitefield is too weak to control Rhoda.
TANNER. [staring at him] In short, you agree with Ann.
OCTAVIUS. No; but I think I understand her. You must admit that your views are hardly suited for the formation of a young girl’s mind and character.
TANNER. I admit nothing of the sort. I admit that the formation of a young lady’s mind and character usually consists in telling her lies; but I object to the particular lie that I am in the habit of abusing the confidence of girls.
OCTAVIUS. Ann doesn’t say that, Jack.
TANNER. What else does she mean?
STRAKER. [catching sight of Ann coming from the house] Miss Whitefield, gentlemen. [He dismounts and strolls away down the avenue with the air of a man who knows he is no longer wanted].
ANN. [coming between Octavius and Tanner]. Good morning, Jack. I have come to tell you that poor Rhoda has got one of her headaches and cannot go out with you to-day in the car. It is a cruel disappointment to her, poor child!
TANNER. What do you say now, Tavy.
OCTAVIUS. Surely you cannot misunderstand, Jack. Ann is showing you the kindest consideration, even at the cost of deceiving you.
ANN. What do you mean?
TANNER. Would you like to cure Rhoda’s headache, Ann?
ANN. Of course.
TANNER. Then tell her what you said just now; and add that you arrived about two minutes after I had received her letter and read it.
ANN. Rhoda has written to you!
TANNER. With full particulars.
OCTAVIUS. Never mind him, Ann. You were right, quite right. Ann was only doing her duty, Jack; and you know it. Doing it in the kindest way, too.
ANN. [going to Octavius] How kind you are, Tavy! How helpful! How well you understand!
TANNER. Ay: tighten the coils. You love her, Tavy, don’t you?
OCTAVIUS. She knows I do.
ANN. Hush. For shame, Tavy!
TANNER. Oh, I give you leave. I am your guardian; and I commit you to Tavy’s care for the next hour.
ANN. No, Jack. I must speak to you about Rhoda. Ricky: will you go back to the house and entertain your American friend? He’s rather on Mamma’s hands so early in the morning. She wants to finish her housekeeping.
OCTAVIUS. I fly, dearest Ann [he kisses her hand].
ANN. [tenderly] Ricky Ticky Tavy!
He looks at her with an eloquent blush, and runs off.
TANNER. [bluntly] Now look here, Ann. This time you’ve landed yourself; and if Tavy were not in love with you past all salvation he’d have found out what an incorrigible liar you are.
ANN. You misunderstand, Jack. I didn’t dare tell Tavy the truth.
TANNER. No: your daring is generally in the opposite direction. What the devil do you mean by telling Rhoda that I am too vicious to associate with her? How can I ever have any human or decent relations with her again, now that you have poisoned her mind in that abominable way?
ANN. I know you are incapable of behaving badly.
TANNER. Then why did you lie to her?
ANN. I had to.
TANNER. Had to!
ANN. Mother made me.
TANNER. [his eye flashing] Ha! I might have known it. The mother! Always the mother!
ANN. It was that dreadful book of yours. You know how timid mother is. All timid women are conventional: we must be conventional, Jack, or we are so cruelly, so vilely misunderstood. Even you, who are a man, cannot say what you think without being misunderstood and vilified—yes: I admit it: I have had to vilify you. Do you want to have poor Rhoda misunderstood and vilified to the same way? Would it be right for mother to let her expose herself to such treatment before she is old enough to judge for herself?
TANNER. In short, the way to avoid misunderstanding is for everybody to lie and slander and insinuate and pretend as hard as they can. That is what obeying your mother comes to.
ANN. I love my mother, Jack.
TANNER. [working himself up into a sociological rage] Is that any reason why you are not to call your soul your own? Oh, I protest against this vile abjection of youth to age! look at fashionable society as you know it. What does it pretend to be? An exquisite dance of nymphs. What is it? A horrible procession of wretched girls, each in the claws of a cynical, cunning, avaricious, disillusioned, ignorantly experienced, foul-minded old woman whom she calls mother, and whose duty it is to corrupt her mind and sell her to the highest bidder. Why do these unhappy slaves marry anybody, however old and vile, sooner than not marry at all? Because marriage is their only means of escape from these decrepit fiends who hide their selfish ambitions, their jealous hatreds of the young rivals who have supplanted them, under the mask of maternal duty and family affection. Such things are abominable: the voice of nature proclaims for the daughter a father’s care and for the son a mother’s. The law for father and son and mother and daughter is not the law of love: it is the law of revolution, of emancipation, of final supersession of the old and worn-out by the young and capable. I tell you, the first duty of manhood and womanhood is a Declaration of Independence: the man who pleads his father’s authority is no man: the woman who pleads her mother’s authority is unfit to bear citizens to a free people.
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?
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.
OCTAVIUS. We feel that, as you may imagine, pretty deeply.
RAMSDEN. [testily] It is some young fool who has not enough experience to know what mystifications of this kind lead to.
HECTOR. [with strong symptoms of moral repugnance] I hope so. A man need be very young and pretty foolish too to be excused for such conduct. You take a very lenient view, Mr Ramsden. Too lenient to my mind. Surely marriage should ennoble a man.
TANNER. [sardonically] Ha!
HECTOR. Am I to gather from that cacchination that you don’t agree with me, Mr Tanner?
TANNER. [drily] Get married and try. You may find it delightful for a while: you certainly won’t find it ennobling. The greatest common measure of a man and a woman is not necessarily greater than the man’s single measure.
HECTOR. Well, we think in America that a woman’s moral number is higher than a man’s, and that the purer nature of a woman lifts a man right out of himself, and makes him better than he was.
OCTAVIUS. [with conviction] So it does.
TANNER. No wonder American women prefer to live in Europe! It’s more comfortable than standing all their lives on an altar to be worshipped. Anyhow, Violet’s husband has not been ennobled. So what’s to be done?
HECTOR. [shaking his head] I can’t dismiss that man’s conduct as lightly as you do, Mr Tanner. However, I’ll say no more. Whoever he is, he’s Miss Robinson’s husband; and I should be glad for her sake to think better of him.
OCTAVIUS. [touched; for he divines a secret sorrow] I’m very sorry, Malone. Very sorry.
HECTOR. [gratefully] You’re a good fellow, Robinson, Thank you.
TANNER. Talk about something else. Violet’s coming from the house.
HECTOR. I should esteem it a very great favor, men, if you would take the opportunity to let me have a few words with the lady alone. I shall have to cry off this trip; and it’s rather a delicate—
RAMSDEN. [glad to escape] Say no more. Come Tanner, Come, Tavy. [He strolls away into the park with Octavius and Tanner, past the motor car].
Violet comes down the avenue to Hector.
VIOLET. Are they looking?
She kisses him.
VIOLET. Have you been telling lies for my sake?
HECTOR. Lying! Lying hardly describes it. I overdo it. I get carried away in an ecstasy of mendacity. Violet: I wish you’d let me own up.
VIOLET. [instantly becoming serious and resolute] No, no. Hector: you promised me not to.
HECTOR. I’ll keep my promise until you release me from it. But I feel mean, lying to those men, and denying my wife. Just dastardly.
VIOLET. I wish your father were not so unreasonable.
HECTOR. He’s not unreasonable. He’s right from his point of view. He has a prejudice against the English middle class.
VIOLET. It’s too ridiculous. You know how I dislike saying such things to you, Hector; but if I were to—oh, well, no matter.
HECTOR. I know. If you were to marry the son of an English manufacturer of office furniture, your friends would consider it a misalliance. And here’s my silly old dad, who is the biggest office furniture man in the world, would show me the door for marrying the most perfect lady in England merely because she has no handle to her name. Of course it’s just absurd. But I tell you, Violet, I don’t like deceiving him. I feel as if I was stealing his money. Why won’t you let me own up?
VIOLET. We can’t afford it. You can be as romantic as you please about love, Hector; but you mustn’t be romantic about money.
HECTOR. [divided between his uxoriousness and his habitual elevation of moral sentiment] That’s very English. [Appealing to her impulsively] Violet: Dad’s bound to find us out some day.
VIOLET. Oh yes, later on of course. But don’t let’s go over this every time we meet, dear. You promised—
HECTOR. All right, all right, I—
VIOLET. [not to be silenced] It is I and not you who suffer by this concealment; and as to facing a struggle and poverty and all that sort of thing I simply will not do it. It’s too silly.
HECTOR. You shall not. I’ll sort of borrow the money from my dad until I get on my own feet; and then I can own up and pay up at the same time.
VIOLET. [alarmed and indignant] Do you mean to work? Do you want to spoil our marriage?
HECTOR. Well, I don’t mean to let marriage spoil my character. Your friend Mr Tanner has got the laugh on me a bit already about that; and—
VIOLET. The beast! I hate Jack Tanner.
HECTOR. [magnanimously] Oh, he’s all right: he only needs the love of a good woman to ennoble him. Besides, he’s proposed a motoring trip to Nice; and I’m going to take you.
VIOLET. How jolly!
HECTOR. Yes; but how are we going to manage? You see, they’ve warned me off going with you, so to speak. They’ve told me in confidence that you’re married. That’s just the most overwhelming confidence I’ve ever been honored with.
Tanner returns with Straker, who goes to his car.
TANNER. Your car is a great success, Mr Malone. Your engineer is showing it off to Mr Ramsden.
HECTOR. [eagerly—forgetting himself] Let’s come, Vi.
VIOLET. [coldly, warning him with her eyes] I beg your pardon, Mr Malone, I did not quite catch—
HECTOR. [recollecting himself] I ask to be allowed the pleasure of showing you my little American steam car, Miss Robinson.
VIOLET. I shall be very pleased. [They go off together down the avenue].
TANNER. About this trip, Straker.
STRAKER. [preoccupied with the car] Yes?
TANNER. Miss Whitefield is supposed to be coming with me.
STRAKER. So I gather.
TANNER. Mr Robinson is to be one of the party.
TANNER. Well, if you can manage so as to be a good deal occupied with me, and leave Mr Robinson a good deal occupied with Miss Whitefield, he will be deeply grateful to you.
STRAKER. [looking round at him] Evidently.
TANNER. “Evidently!” Your grandfather would have simply winked.
STRAKER. My grandfather would have touched his at.
TANNER. And I should have given your good nice respectful grandfather a sovereign.
STRAKER. Five shillins, more likely. [He leaves the car and approaches Tanner]. What about the lady’s views?
TANNER. She is just as willing to be left to Mr Robinson as Mr Robinson is to be left to her. [Straker looks at his principal with cool scepticism; then turns to the car whistling his favorite air]. Stop that aggravating noise. What do you mean by it? [Straker calmly resumes the melody and finishes it. Tanner politely hears it out before he again addresses Straker, this time with elaborate seriousness]. Enry: I have ever been a warm advocate of the spread of music among the masses; but I object to your obliging the company whenever Miss Whitefield’s name is mentioned. You did it this morning, too.
STRAKER. [obstinately] It’s not a bit o use. Mr Robinson may as well give it up first as last.
STRAKER. Garn! You know why. Course it’s not my business; but you needn’t start kiddin me about it.
TANNER. I am not kidding. I don’t know why.
STRAKER. [Cheerfully sulky] Oh, very well. All right. It ain’t my business.
TANNER. [impressively] I trust, Enry, that, as between employer and engineer, I shall always know how to keep my proper distance, and not intrude my private affairs on you. Even our business arrangements are subject to the approval of your Trade Union. But don’t abuse your advantages. Let me remind you that Voltaire said that what was too silly to be said could be sung.
STRAKER. It wasn’t Voltaire: it was Bow Mar Shay.
TANNER. I stand corrected: Beaumarchais of course. Now you seem to think that what is too delicate to be said can be whistled. Unfortunately your whistling, though melodious, is unintelligible. Come! there’s nobody listening: neither my genteel relatives nor the secretary of your confounded Union. As man to man, Enry, why do you think that my friend has no chance with Miss Whitefield?
STRAKER. Cause she’s arter summun else.
TANNER. Bosh! who else?
STRAKER. Mean to tell me you didn’t know? Oh, come, Mr Tanner!
TANNER. [in fierce earnest] Are you playing the fool, or do you mean it?
STRAKER. [with a flash of temper] I’m not playin no fool. [More coolly] Why, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. If you ain’t spotted that, you don’t know much about these sort of things. [Serene again] Ex-cuse me, you know, Mr Tanner; but you asked me as man to man; and I told you as man to man.
TANNER. [wildly appealing to the heavens] Then I—I am the bee, the spider, the marked down victim, the destined prey.
STRAKER. I dunno about the bee and the spider. But the marked down victim, that’s what you are and no mistake; and a jolly good job for you, too, I should say.
TANNER. [momentously] Henry Straker: the moment of your life has arrived.
STRAKER. What d’y’mean?
TANNER. That record to Biskra.
STRAKER. [eagerly] Yes?
TANNER. Break it.
STRAKER. [rising to the height of his destiny] D’y’mean it?
TANNER. I do.
TANNER. Now. Is that machine ready to start?
STRAKER. [quailing] But you can’t—
TANNER. [cutting him short by getting into the car] Off we go. First to the bank for money; then to my rooms for my kit; then to your rooms for your kit; then break the record from London to Dover or Folkestone; then across the channel and away like mad to Marseilles, Gibraltar, Genoa, any port from which we can sail to a Mahometan country where men are protected from women.
STRAKER. Garn! you’re kiddin.
TANNER. [resolutely] Stay behind then. If you won’t come I’ll do it alone. [He starts the motor].
STRAKER. [running after him] Here! Mister! arf a mo! steady on! [he scrambles in as the car plunges forward].
Evening in the Sierra Nevada. Rolling slopes of brown, with olive trees instead of apple trees in the cultivated patches, and occasional prickly pears instead of gorse and bracken in the wilds. Higher up, tall stone peaks and precipices, all handsome and distinguished. No wild nature here: rather a most aristocratic mountain landscape made by a fastidious artist-creator. No vulgar profusion of vegetation: even a touch of aridity in the frequent patches of stones: Spanish magnificence and Spanish economy everywhere.
Not very far north of a spot at which the high road over one of the passes crosses a tunnel on the railway from Malaga to Granada, is one of the mountain amphitheatres of the Sierra. Looking at it from the wide end of the horse-shoe, one sees, a little to the right, in the face of the cliff, a romantic cave which is really an abandoned quarry, and towards the left a little hill, commanding a view of the road, which skirts the amphitheatre on the left, maintaining its higher level on embankments and on an occasional stone arch. On the hill, watching the road, is a man who is either a Spaniard or a Scotchman. Probably a Spaniard, since he wears the dress of a Spanish goatherd and seems at home in the Sierra Nevada, but very like a Scotchman for all that. In the hollow, on the slope leading to the quarry-cave, are about a dozen men who, as they recline at their cave round a heap of smouldering white ashes of dead leaf and brushwood, have an air of being conscious of themselves as picturesque scoundrels honoring the Sierra by using it as an effective pictorial background. As a matter of artistic fact they are not picturesque; and the mountains tolerate them as lions tolerate lice. An English policeman or Poor Law Guardian would recognize them as a selected band of tramps and ablebodied paupers.
This description of them is not wholly contemptuous. Whoever has intelligently observed the tramp, or visited the ablebodied ward of a workhouse, will admit that our social failures are not all drunkards and weaklings. Some of them are men who do not fit the class they were born into. Precisely the same qualities that make the educated gentleman an artist may make an uneducated manual laborer an ablebodied pauper. There are men who fall helplessly into the workhouse because they are good for nothing; but there are also men who are there because they are strongminded enough to disregard the social convention (obviously not a disinterested one on the part of the ratepayer) which bids a man live by heavy and badly paid drudgery when he has the alternative of walking into the workhouse, announcing himself as a destitute person, and legally compelling the Guardians to feed, clothe and house him better than he could feed, clothe and house himself without great exertion. When a man who is born a poet refuses a stool in a stockbroker’s office, and starves in a garret, spunging on a poor landlady or on his friends and relatives rather than work against his grain; or when a lady, because she is a lady, will face any extremity of parasitic dependence rather than take a situation as cook or parlormaid, we make large allowances for them. To such allowances the ablebodied pauper and his nomadic variant the tramp are equally entitled.
Further, the imaginative man, if his life is to be tolerable to him, must have leisure to tell himself stories, and a position which lends itself to imaginative decoration. The ranks of unskilled labor offer no such positions. We misuse our laborers horribly; and when a man refuses to be misused, we have no right to say that he is refusing honest work. Let us be frank in this matter before we go on with our play; so that we may enjoy it without hypocrisy. If we were reasoning, farsighted people, four fifths of us would go straight to the Guardians for relief, and knock the whole social system to pieces with most beneficial reconstructive results. The reason we do got do this is because we work like bees or ants, by instinct or habit, not reasoning about the matter at all. Therefore when a man comes along who can and does reason, and who, applying the Kantian test to his conduct, can truly say to us, If everybody did as I do, the world would be compelled to reform itself industrially, and abolish slavery and squalor, which exist only because everybody does as you do, let us honor that man and seriously consider the advisability of following his example. Such a man is the able-bodied, able-minded pauper. Were he a gentleman doing his best to get a pension or a sinecure instead of sweeping a crossing, nobody would blame him; for deciding that so long as the alternative lies between living mainly at the expense of the community and allowing the community to live mainly at his, it would be folly to accept what is to him personally the greater of the two evils.
We may therefore contemplate the tramps of the Sierra without prejudice, admitting cheerfully that our objects—briefly, to be gentlemen of fortune—are much the same as theirs, and the difference in our position and methods merely accidental. One or two of them, perhaps, it would be wiser to kill without malice in a friendly and frank manner; for there are bipeds, just as there are quadrupeds, who are too dangerous to be left unchained and unmuzzled; and these cannot fairly expect to have other men’s lives wasted in the work of watching them. But as society has not the courage to kill them, and, when it catches them, simply wreaks on them some superstitious expiatory rites of torture and degradation, and than lets them loose with heightened qualifications for mischief, it is just as well that they are at large in the Sierra, and in the hands of a chief who looks as if he might possibly, on provocation, order them to be shot.
This chief, seated in the centre of the group on a squared block of stone from the quarry, is a tall strong man, with a striking cockatoo nose, glossy black hair, pointed beard, upturned moustache, and a Mephistophelean affectation which is fairly imposing, perhaps because the scenery admits of a larger swagger than Piccadilly, perhaps because of a certain sentimentality in the man which gives him that touch of grace which alone can excuse deliberate picturesqueness. His eyes and mouth are by no means rascally; he has a fine voice and a ready wit; and whether he is really the strongest man in the party, or not, he looks it. He is certainly, the best fed, the best dressed, and the best trained. The fact that he speaks English is not unexpected in spite of the Spanish landscape; for with the exception of one man who might be guessed as a bullfighter ruined by drink and one unmistakable Frenchman, they are all cockney or American; therefore, in a land of cloaks and sombreros, they mostly wear seedy overcoats, woollen mufflers, hard hemispherical hats, and dirty brown gloves. Only a very few dress after their leader, whose broad sombrero with a cock’s feather in the band, and voluminous cloak descending to his high boots, are as un-English as possible. None of them are armed; and the ungloved ones keep their hands in their pockets because it is their national belief that it must be dangerously cold in the open air with the night coming on. (It is as warm an evening as any reasonable man could desire).
Except the bullfighting inebriate there is only one person in the company who looks more than, say, thirty-three. He is a small man with reddish whiskers, weak eyes, and the anxious look of a small tradesman in difficulties. He wears the only tall hat visible: it shines in the sunset with the sticky glow of some sixpenny patent hat reviver, often applied and constantly tending to produce a worse state of the original surface than the ruin it was applied to remedy. He has a collar and cuff of celluloid; and his brown Chesterfield overcoat, with velvet collar, is still presentable. He is pre-eminently the respectable man of the party, and is certainly over forty, possibly over fifty. He is the corner man on the leader’s right, opposite three men in scarlet ties on his left. One of these three is the Frenchman. Of the remaining two, who are both English, one is argumentative, solemn, and obstinate; the other rowdy and mischievous.
The chief, with a magnificent fling of the end of his cloak across his left shoulder, rises to address them. The applause which greets him shows that he is a favorite orator.
THE CHIEF. Friends and fellow brigands. I have a proposal to make to this meeting. We have now spent three evenings in discussing the question Have Anarchists or Social-Democrats the most personal courage? We have gone into the principles of Anarchism and Social-Democracy at great length. The cause of Anarchy has been ably represented by our one Anarchist, who doesn’t know what Anarchism means [laughter]—
THE ANARCHIST. [rising] A point of order, Mendoza—
MENDOZA. [forcibly] No, by thunder: your last point of order took half an hour. Besides, Anarchists don’t believe in order.
THE ANARCHIST. [mild, polite but persistent: he is, in fact, the respectable looking elderly man in the celluloid collar and cuffs] That is a vulgar error. I can prove—
MENDOZA. Order, order.
THE OTHERS [shouting] Order, order. Sit down. Chair! Shut up.
The Anarchist is suppressed.
MENDOZA. On the other hand we have three Social-Democrats among us. They are not on speaking terms; and they have put before us three distinct and incompatible views of Social-Democracy.
THE MAJORITY. [shouting assent] Hear, hear! So we are. Right.
THE ROWDY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [smarting under oppression] You ain’t no Christian. You’re a Sheeny, you are.
MENDOZA. [with crushing magnanimity] My friend; I am an exception to all rules. It is true that I have the honor to be a Jew; and, when the Zionists need a leader to reassemble our race on its historic soil of Palestine, Mendoza will not be the last to volunteer [sympathetic applause—hear, hear, etc.]. But I am not a slave to any superstition. I have swallowed all the formulas, even that of Socialism; though, in a sense, once a Socialist, always a Socialist.
THE SOCIAL-DEMOCRATS. Hear, hear!
MENDOZA. But I am well aware that the ordinary man—even the ordinary brigand, who can scarcely be called an ordinary man [Hear, hear!]—is not a philosopher. Common sense is good enough for him; and in our business affairs common sense is good enough for me. Well, what is our business here in the Sierra Nevada, chosen by the Moors as the fairest spot in Spain? Is it to discuss abstruse questions of political economy? No: it is to hold up motor cars and secure a more equitable distribution of wealth.
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. All made by labor, mind you.
MENDOZA. [urbanely] Undoubtedly. All made by labor, and on its way to be squandered by wealthy vagabonds in the dens of vice that disfigure the sunny shores of the Mediterranean. We intercept that wealth. We restore it to circulation among the class that produced it and that chiefly needs it—the working class. We do this at the risk of our lives and liberties, by the exercise of the virtues of courage, endurance, foresight, and abstinence—especially abstinence. I myself have eaten nothing but prickly pears and broiled rabbit for three days.
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [Stubbornly] No more ain’t we.
MENDOZA. [indignantly] Have I taken more than my share?
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [unmoved] Why should you?
THE ANARCHIST. Why should he not? To each according to his needs: from each according to his means.
THE FRENCHMAN. [shaking his fist at the anarchist] Fumiste!
MENDOZA. [diplomatically] I agree with both of you.
THE GENUINELY ENGLISH BRIGANDS. Hear, hear! Bravo, Mendoza!
MENDOZA. What I say is, let us treat one another as gentlemen, and strive to excel in personal courage only when we take the field.
THE ROWDY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [derisively] Shikespear.
A whistle comes from the goatherd on the hill. He springs up and points excitedly forward along the road to the north.
THE GOATHERD. Automobile! Automobile! [He rushes down the hill and joins the rest, who all scramble to their feet].
MENDOZA. [in ringing tones] To arms! Who has the gun?
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [handing a rifle to Mendoza] Here.
MENDOZA. Have the nails been strewn in the road?
THE ROWDY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. Two ahnces of em.
MENDOZA. Good! [To the Frenchman] With me, Duval. If the nails fail, puncture their tires with a bullet. [He gives the rifle to Duval, who follows him up the hill. Mendoza produces an opera glass. The others hurry across to the road and disappear to the north].
MENDOZA. [on the hill, using his glass] Two only, a capitalist and his chauffeur. They look English.
DUVAL. Angliche! Aoh yess. Cochons! [Handling the rifle] Faut tire, n’est-ce-pas?
MENDOZA. No: the nails have gone home. Their tire is down: they stop.
DUVAL. [shouting to the others] Fondez sur eux, nom de Dieu!
MENDOZA. [rebuking his excitement] Du calme, Duval: keep your hair on. They take it quietly. Let us descend and receive them.
Mendoza descends, passing behind the fire and coming forward, whilst Tanner and Straker, in their motoring goggles, leather coats, and caps, are led in from the road by brigands.
TANNER. Is this the gentleman you describe as your boss? Does he speak English?
THE ROWDY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. Course he does. Y’don’t suppowz we Hinglishmen lets ahrselves be bossed by a bloomin Spenniard, do you?
MENDOZA. [with dignity] Allow me to introduce myself: Mendoza, President of the League of the Sierra! [Posing loftily] I am a brigand: I live by robbing the rich.
TANNER. [promptly] I am a gentleman: I live by robbing the poor. Shake hands.
THE ENGLISH SOCIAL-DEMOCRATS. Hear, hear!
General laughter and good humor. Tanner and Mendoza shake hands. The Brigands drop into their former places.
STRAKER. Ere! where do I come in?
TANNER. [introducing] My friend and chauffeur.
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [suspiciously] Well, which is he? friend or show-foor? It makes all the difference you know.
MENDOZA. [explaining] We should expect ransom for a friend. A professional chauffeur is free of the mountains. He even takes a trifling percentage of his princpal’s ransom if he will honor us by accepting it.
STRAKER. I see. Just to encourage me to come this way again. Well, I’ll think about it.
DUVAL. [impulsively rushing across to Straker] Mon frere! [He embraces him rapturously and kisses him on both cheeks].
STRAKER. [disgusted] Ere, git out: don’t be silly. Who are you, pray?
DUVAL. Duval: Social-Democrat.
STRAKER. Oh, you’re a Social-Democrat, are you?
THE ANARCHIST. He means that he has sold out to the parliamentary humbugs and the bourgeoisie. Compromise! that is his faith.
DUVAL. [furiously] I understand what he say. He say Bourgeois. He say Compromise. Jamais de la vie! Miserable menteur—
STRAKER. See here, Captain Mendoza, ow much o this sort o thing do you put up with here? Are we avin a pleasure trip in the mountains, or are we at a Socialist meetin?
THE MAJORITY. Hear, hear! Shut up. Chuck it. Sit down, etc. etc. [The Social-Democrats and the Anarchist are hurtled into the background. Straker, after superintending this proceeding with satisfaction, places himself on Mendoza’s left, Tanner being on his right].
MENDOZA. Can we offer you anything? Broiled rabbit and prickly pears—
TANNER. Thank you: we have dined.
MENDOZA. [to his followers] Gentlemen: business is over for the day. Go as you please until morning.
The Brigands disperse into groups lazily. Some go into the cave. Others sit down or lie down to sleep in the open. A few produce a pack of cards and move off towards the road; for it is now starlight; and they know that motor cars have lamps which can be turned to account for lighting a card party.
STRAKER. [calling after them] Don’t none of you go fooling with that car, d’ye hear?
MENDOZA. No fear, Monsieur le Chauffeur. The first one we captured cured us of that.
STRAKER. [interested] What did it do?
MENDOZA. It carried three brave comrades of ours, who did not know how to stop it, into Granada, and capsized them opposite the police station. Since then we never touch one without sending for the chauffeur. Shall we chat at our ease?
TANNER. By all means.
Tanner, Mendoza, and Straker sit down on the turf by the fire. Mendoza delicately waives his presidential dignity, of which the right to sit on the squared stone block is the appanage, by sitting on the ground like his guests, and using the stone only as a support for his back.
MENDOZA. It is the custom in Spain always to put off business until to-morrow. In fact, you have arrived out of office hours. However, if you would prefer to settle the question of ransom at once, I am at your service.
TANNER. To-morrow will do for me. I am rich enough to pay anything in reason.
MENDOZA. [respectfully, much struck by this admission] You are a remarkable man, sir. Our guests usually describe themselves as miserably poor.
TANNER. Pooh! Miserably poor people don’t own motor cars.
MENDOZA. Precisely what we say to them.
TANNER. Treat us well: we shall not prove ungrateful.
STRAKER. No prickly pears and broiled rabbits, you know. Don’t tell me you can’t do us a bit better than that if you like.
MENDOZA. Wine, kids, milk, cheese and bread can be procured for ready money.
STRAKER. [graciously] Now you’re talking.
TANNER. Are you all Socialists here, may I ask?
MENDOZA. [repudiating this humiliating misconception] Oh no, no, no: nothing of the kind, I assure you. We naturally have modern views as to the justice of the existing distribution of wealth: otherwise we should lose our self-respect. But nothing that you could take exception to, except two or three faddists.
TANNER. I had no intention of suggesting anything discreditable. In fact, I am a bit of a Socialist myself.
STRAKER. [drily] Most rich men are, I notice.
MENDOZA. Quite so. It has reached us, I admit. It is in the air of the century.
STRAKER. Socialism must be looking up a bit if your chaps are taking to it.
MENDOZA. That is true, sir. A movement which is confined to philosophers and honest men can never exercise any real political influence: there are too few of them. Until a movement shows itself capable of spreading among brigands, it can never hope for a political majority.
TANNER. But are your brigands any less honest than ordinary citizens?
MENDOZA. Sir: I will be frank with you. Brigandage is abnormal. Abnormal professions attract two classes: those who are not good enough for ordinary bourgeois life and those who are too good for it. We are dregs and scum, sir: the dregs very filthy, the scum very superior.
STRAKER. Take care! some o the dregs’ll hear you.
MENDOZA. It does not matter: each brigand thinks himself scum, and likes to hear the others called dregs.
TANNER. Come! you are a wit. [Mendoza inclines his head, flattered]. May one ask you a blunt question?
MENDOZA. As blunt as you please.
TANNER. How does it pay a man of your talent to shepherd such a flock as this on broiled rabbit and prickly pears? I have seen men less gifted, and I’ll swear less honest, supping at the Savoy on foie gras and champagne.
MENDOZA. Pooh! they have all had their turn at the broiled rabbit, just as I shall have my turn at the Savoy. Indeed, I have had a turn there already—as waiter.
TANNER. A waiter! You astonish me!
MENDOZA. [reflectively] Yes: I, Mendoza of the Sierra, was a waiter. Hence, perhaps, my cosmopolitanism. [With sudden intensity] Shall I tell you the story of my life?
STRAKER. [apprehensively] If it ain’t too long, old chap—
TANNER. [interrupting him] Tsh-sh: you are a Philistine, Henry: you have no romance in you. [To Mendoza] You interest me extremely, President. Never mind Henry: he can go to sleep.
MENDOZA. The woman I loved—
STRAKER. Oh, this is a love story, is it? Right you are. Go on: I was only afraid you were going to talk about yourself.
MENDOZA. Myself! I have thrown myself away for her sake: that is why I am here. No matter: I count the world well lost for her. She had, I pledge you my word, the most magnificent head of hair I ever saw. She had humor; she had intellect; she could cook to perfection; and her highly strung temperament made her uncertain, incalculable, variable, capricious, cruel, in a word, enchanting.
STRAKER. A six shillin novel sort o woman, all but the cookin. Er name was Lady Gladys Plantagenet, wasn’t it?
MENDOZA. No, sir: she was not an earl’s daughter. Photography, reproduced by the half-tone process, has made me familiar with the appearance of the daughters of the English peerage; and I can honestly say that I would have sold the lot, faces, dowries, clothes, titles, and all, for a smile from this woman. Yet she was a woman of the people, a worker: otherwise—let me reciprocate your bluntness—I should have scorned her.
TANNER. Very properly. And did she respond to your love?
MENDOZA. Should I be here if she did? She objected to marry a Jew.
TANNER. On religious grounds?
MENDOZA. No: she was a freethinker. She said that every Jew considers in his heart that English people are dirty in their habits.
TANNER. [surprised] Dirty!
MENDOZA. It showed her extraordinary knowledge of the world; for it is undoubtedly true. Our elaborate sanitary code makes us unduly contemptuous of the Gentile.
TANNER. Did you ever hear that, Henry?
STRAKER. I’ve heard my sister say so. She was cook in a Jewish family once.
MENDOZA. I could not deny it; neither could I eradicate the impression it made on her mind. I could have got round any other objection; but no woman can stand a suspicion of indelicacy as to her person. My entreaties were in vain: she always retorted that she wasn’t good enough for me, and recommended me to marry an accursed barmaid named Rebecca Lazarus, whom I loathed. I talked of suicide: she offered me a packet of beetle poison to do it with. I hinted at murder: she went into hysterics; and as I am a living man I went to America so that she might sleep without dreaming that I was stealing upstairs to cut her throat. In America I went out west and fell in with a man who was wanted by the police for holding up trains. It was he who had the idea of holding up motors cars—in the South of Europe: a welcome idea to a desperate and disappointed man. He gave me some valuable introductions to capitalists of the right sort. I formed a syndicate; and the present enterprise is the result. I became leader, as the Jew always becomes leader, by his brains and imagination. But with all my pride of race I would give everything I possess to be an Englishman. I am like a boy: I cut her name on the trees and her initials on the sod. When I am alone I lie down and tear my wretched hair and cry Louisa—
STRAKER. [startled] Louisa!
MENDOZA. It is her name—Louisa—Louisa Straker—
STRAKER. [scrambling up on his knees most indignantly] Look here: Louisa Straker is my sister, see? Wot do you mean by gassin about her like this? Wot she got to do with you?
MENDOZA. A dramatic coincidence! You are Enry, her favorite brother!
STRAKER. Oo are you callin Enry? What call have you to take a liberty with my name or with hers? For two pins I’d punch your fat ed, so I would.
MENDOZA. [with grandiose calm] If I let you do it, will you promise to brag of it afterwards to her? She will be reminded of her Mendoza: that is all I desire.
TANNER. This is genuine devotion, Henry. You should respect it.
STRAKER. [fiercely] Funk, more likely.
MENDOZA. [springing to his feet] Funk! Young man: I come of a famous family of fighters; and as your sister well knows, you would have as much chance against me as a perambulator against your motor car.
STRAKER. [secretly daunted, but rising from his knees with an air of reckless pugnacity] I ain’t afraid of you. With your Louisa! Louisa! Miss Straker is good enough for you, I should think.
MENDOZA. I wish you could persuade her to think so.
STRAKER. [exasperated] Here—
TANNER. [rising quickly and interposing] Oh come, Henry: even if you could fight the President you can’t fight the whole League of the Sierra. Sit down again and be friendly. A cat may look at a king; and even a President of brigands may look at your sister. All this family pride is really very old fashioned.
STRAKER. [subdued, but grumbling] Let him look at her. But wot does he mean by makin out that she ever looked at im? [Reluctantly resuming his couch on the turf] Ear him talk, one ud think she was keepin company with him. [He turns his back on them and composes himself to sleep].
MENDOZA. [to Tanner, becoming more confidential as he finds himself virtually alone with a sympathetic listener in the still starlight of the mountains; for all the rest are asleep by this time] It was just so with her, sir. Her intellect reached forward into the twentieth century: her social prejudices and family affections reached back into the dark ages. Ah, sir, how the words of Shakespear seem to fit every crisis in our emotions!
I loved Louisa: 40,000 brothers Could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum.
And so on. I forget the rest. Call it madness if you will—infatuation. I am an able man, a strong man: in ten years I should have owned a first-class hotel. I met her; and you see! I am a brigand, an outcast. Even Shakespear cannot do justice to what I feel for Louisa. Let me read you some lines that I have written about her myself. However slight their literary merit may be, they express what I feel better than any casual words can. [He produces a packet of hotel bills scrawled with manuscript, and kneels at the fire to decipher them, poking it with a stick to make it glow].
TANNER. [clapping him rudely on the shoulder] Put them in the fire, President.
MENDOZA. [startled] Eh?
TANNER. You are sacrificing your career to a monomania.
MENDOZA. I know it.
TANNER. No you don’t. No man would commit such a crime against himself if he really knew what he was doing. How can you look round at these august hills, look up at this divine sky, taste this finely tempered air, and then talk like a literary hack on a second floor in Bloomsbury?
MENDOZA. [shaking his head] The Sierra is no better than Bloomsbury when once the novelty has worn off. Besides, these mountains make you dream of women—of women with magnificent hair.
TANNER. Of Louisa, in short. They will not make me dream of women, my friend: I am heartwhole.
MENDOZA. Do not boast until morning, sir. This is a strange country for dreams.
TANNER. Well, we shall see. Goodnight. [He lies down and composes himself to sleep].
Mendoza, with a sigh, follows his example; and for a few moments there is peace in the Sierra. Then Mendoza sits up suddenly and says pleadingly to Tanner—
MENDOZA. Just allow me to read a few lines before you go to sleep. I should really like your opinion of them.
TANNER. [drowsily] Go on. I am listening.
MENDOZA. I saw thee first in Whitsun week Louisa, Louisa—
TANNER. [roaring himself] My dear President, Louisa is a very pretty name; but it really doesn’t rhyme well to Whitsun week.
MENDOZA. Of course not. Louisa is not the rhyme, but the refrain.
TANNER. [subsiding] Ah, the refrain. I beg your pardon. Go on.
MENDOZA. Perhaps you do not care for that one: I think you will like this better. [He recites, in rich soft tones, and to slow time]
Louisa, I love thee. I love thee, Louisa. Louisa, Louisa, Louisa, I love thee. One name and one phrase make my music, Louisa. Louisa, Louisa, Louisa, I love thee.
Mendoza thy lover, Thy lover, Mendoza, Mendoza adoringly lives for Louisa. There's nothing but that in the world for Mendoza. Louisa, Louisa, Mendoza adores thee.
[Affected] There is no merit in producing beautiful lines upon such a name. Louisa is an exquisite name, is it not?
TANNER. [all but asleep, responds with a faint groan].
O wert thou, Louisa, The wife of Mendoza, Mendoza's Louisa, Louisa Mendoza, How blest were the life of Louisa's Mendoza! How painless his longing of love for Louisa!
That is real poetry—from the heart—from the heart of hearts. Don’t you think it will move her?
[Resignedly] Asleep, as usual. Doggrel to all the world; heavenly music to me! Idiot that I am to wear my heart on my sleeve! [He composes himself to sleep, murmuring] Louisa, I love thee; I love thee, Louisa; Louisa, Louisa, Louisa, I—
Straker snores; rolls over on his side; and relapses into sleep. Stillness settles on the Sierra; and the darkness deepens. The fire has again buried itself in white ash and ceased to glow. The peaks show unfathomably dark against the starry firmament; but now the stars dim and vanish; and the sky seems to steal away out of the universe. Instead of the Sierra there is nothing; omnipresent nothing. No sky, no peaks, no light, no sound, no time nor space, utter void. Then somewhere the beginning of a pallor, and with it a faint throbbing buzz as of a ghostly violoncello palpitating on the same note endlessly. A couple of ghostly violins presently take advantage of this bass
(a staff of music is supplied here)
and therewith the pallor reveals a man in the void, an incorporeal but visible man, seated, absurdly enough, on nothing. For a moment he raises his head as the music passes him by. Then, with a heavy sigh, he droops in utter dejection; and the violins, discouraged, retrace their melody in despair and at last give it up, extinguished by wailings from uncanny wind instruments, thus:—
It is all very odd. One recognizes the Mozartian strain; and on this hint, and by the aid of certain sparkles of violet light in the pallor, the man’s costume explains itself as that of a Spanish nobleman of the XV-XVI century. Don Juan, of course; but where? why? how? Besides, in the brief lifting of his face, now hidden by his hat brim, there was a curious suggestion of Tanner. A more critical, fastidious, handsome face, paler and colder, without Tanner’s impetuous credulity and enthusiasm, and without a touch of his modern plutocratic vulgarity, but still a resemblance, even an identity. The name too: Don Juan Tenorio, John Tanner. Where on earth—-or elsewhere—have we got to from the XX century and the Sierra?
Another pallor in the void, this time not violet, but a disagreeable smoky yellow. With it, the whisper of a ghostly clarionet turning this tune into infinite sadness:
(Here there is another musical staff.)
The yellowish pallor moves: there is an old crone wandering in the void, bent and toothless; draped, as well as one can guess, in the coarse brown frock of some religious order. She wanders and wanders in her slow hopeless way, much as a wasp flies in its rapid busy way, until she blunders against the thing she seeks: companionship. With a sob of relief the poor old creature clutches at the presence of the man and addresses him in her dry unlovely voice, which can still express pride and resolution as well as suffering.
THE OLD WOMAN. Excuse me; but I am so lonely; and this place is so awful.
DON JUAN. A new comer?
THE OLD WOMAN. Yes: I suppose I died this morning. I confessed; I had extreme unction; I was in bed with my family about me and my eyes fixed on the cross. Then it grew dark; and when the light came back it was this light by which I walk seeing nothing. I have wandered for hours in horrible loneliness.
DON JUAN. [sighing] Ah! you have not yet lost the sense of time. One soon does, in eternity.
THE OLD WOMAN. Where are we?
DON JUAN. In hell.
THE OLD WOMAN [proudly] Hell! I in hell! How dare you?
DON JUAN. [unimpressed] Why not, Senora?
THE OLD WOMAN. You do not know to whom you are speaking. I am a lady, and a faithful daughter of the Church.
DON JUAN. I do not doubt it.
THE OLD WOMAN. But how then can I be in hell? Purgatory, perhaps: I have not been perfect: who has? But hell! oh, you are lying.
DON JUAN. Hell, Senora, I assure you; hell at its best—that is, its most solitary—though perhaps you would prefer company.
THE OLD WOMAN. But I have sincerely repented; I have confessed.
DON JUAN. How much?
THE OLD WOMAN. More sins than I really committed. I loved confession.
DON JUAN. Ah, that is perhaps as bad as confessing too little. At all events, Senora, whether by oversight or intention, you are certainly damned, like myself; and there is nothing for it now but to make the best of it.
THE OLD WOMAN [indignantly] Oh! and I might have been so much wickeder! All my good deeds wasted! It is unjust.
DON JUAN. No: you were fully and clearly warned. For your bad deeds, vicarious atonement, mercy without justice. For your good deeds, justice without mercy. We have many good people here.
THE OLD WOMAN. Were you a good man?
DON JUAN. I was a murderer.
THE OLD WOMAN. A murderer! Oh, how dare they send me to herd with murderers! I was not as bad as that: I was a good woman. There is some mistake: where can I have it set right?
DON JUAN. I do not know whether mistakes can be corrected here. Probably they will not admit a mistake even if they have made one.
THE OLD WOMAN. But whom can I ask?
DON JUAN. I should ask the Devil, Senora: he understands the ways of this place, which is more than I ever could.
THE OLD WOMAN. The Devil! I speak to the Devil!
DON JUAN. In hell, Senora, the Devil is the leader of the best society.
THE OLD WOMAN. I tell you, wretch, I know I am not in hell.
DON JUAN. How do you know?
THE OLD WOMAN. Because I feel no pain.
DON JUAN. Oh, then there is no mistake: you are intentionally damned.
THE OLD WOMAN. Why do you say that?
DON JUAN. Because hell, Senora, is a place for the wicked. The wicked are quite comfortable in it: it was made for them. You tell me you feel no pain. I conclude you are one of those for whom Hell exists.
THE OLD WOMAN. Do you feel no pain?
DON JUAN. I am not one of the wicked, Senora; therefore it bores me, bores me beyond description, beyond belief.
THE OLD WOMAN. Not one of the wicked! You said you were a murderer.
DON JUAN. Only a duel. I ran my sword through an old man who was trying to run his through me.
THE OLD WOMAN. If you were a gentleman, that was not a murder.
DON JUAN. The old man called it murder, because he was, he said, defending his daughter’s honor. By this he meant that because I foolishly fell in love with her and told her so, she screamed; and he tried to assassinate me after calling me insulting names.
THE OLD WOMAN. You were like all men. Libertines and murderers all, all, all!
DON JUAN. And yet we meet here, dear lady.
THE OLD WOMAN. Listen to me. My father was slain by just such a wretch as you, in just such a duel, for just such a cause. I screamed: it was my duty. My father drew on my assailant: his honor demanded it. He fell: that was the reward of honor. I am here: in hell, you tell me that is the reward of duty. Is there justice in heaven?
DON JUAN. No; but there is justice in hell: heaven is far above such idle human personalities. You will be welcome in hell, Senora. Hell is the home of honor, duty, justice, and the rest of the seven deadly virtues. All the wickedness on earth is done in their name: where else but in hell should they have their reward? Have I not told you that the truly damned are those who are happy in hell?
THE OLD WOMAN. And are you happy here?
DON JUAN. [Springing to his feet] No; and that is the enigma on which I ponder in darkness. Why am I here? I, who repudiated all duty, trampled honor underfoot, and laughed at justice!
THE OLD WOMAN. Oh, what do I care why you are here? Why am _I_ here? I, who sacrificed all my inclinations to womanly virtue and propriety!
DON JUAN. Patience, lady: you will be perfectly happy and at home here. As saith the poet, “Hell is a city much like Seville.”
THE OLD WOMAN. Happy! here! where I am nothing! where I am nobody!
DON JUAN. Not at all: you are a lady; and wherever ladies are is hell. Do not be surprised or terrified: you will find everything here that a lady can desire, including devils who will serve you from sheer love of servitude, and magnify your importance for the sake of dignifying their service—the best of servants.
THE OLD WOMAN. My servants will be devils!
DON JUAN. Have you ever had servants who were not devils?
THE OLD WOMAN. Never: they were devils, perfect devils, all of them. But that is only a manner of speaking. I thought you meant that my servants here would be real devils.
DON JUAN. No more real devils than you will be a real lady. Nothing is real here. That is the horror of damnation.
THE OLD WOMAN. Oh, this is all madness. This is worse than fire and the worm.
DON JUAN. For you, perhaps, there are consolations. For instance: how old were you when you changed from time to eternity?
THE OLD WOMAN. Do not ask me how old I was as if I were a thing of the past. I am 77.
DON JUAN. A ripe age, Senora. But in hell old age is not tolerated. It is too real. Here we worship Love and Beauty. Our souls being entirely damned, we cultivate our hearts. As a lady of 77, you would not have a single acquaintance in hell.
THE OLD WOMAN. How can I help my age, man?
DON JUAN. You forget that you have left your age behind you in the realm of time. You are no more 77 than you are 7 or 17 or 27.
THE OLD WOMAN. Nonsense!
DON JUAN. Consider, Senora: was not this true even when you lived on earth? When you were 70, were you really older underneath your wrinkles and your grey hairs than when you were 30?
THE OLD WOMAN. No, younger: at 30 I was a fool. But of what use is it to feel younger and look older?
DON JUAN. You see, Senora, the look was only an illusion. Your wrinkles lied, just as the plump smooth skin of many a stupid girl of 17, with heavy spirits and decrepit ideas, lies about her age? Well, here we have no bodies: we see each other as bodies only because we learnt to think about one another under that aspect when we were alive; and we still think in that way, knowing no other. But we can appear to one another at what age we choose. You have but to will any of your old looks back, and back they will come.
THE OLD WOMAN. It cannot be true.
DON JUAN. Try.
THE OLD WOMAN. Seventeen!
DON JUAN. Stop. Before you decide, I had better tell you that these things are a matter of fashion. Occasionally we have a rage for 17; but it does not last long. Just at present the fashionable age is 40—or say 37; but there are signs of a change. If you were at all good-looking at 27, I should suggest your trying that, and setting a new fashion.
THE OLD WOMAN. I do not believe a word you are saying. However, 27 be it. [Whisk! the old woman becomes a young one, and so handsome that in the radiance into which her dull yellow halo has suddenly lightened one might almost mistake her for Ann Whitefield].
DON JUAN. Dona Ana de Ulloa!
ANA. What? You know me!
DON JUAN. And you forget me!
ANA. I cannot see your face. [He raises his hat]. Don Juan Tenorio! Monster! You who slew my father! even here you pursue me.
DON JUAN. I protest I do not pursue you. Allow me to withdraw [going].
ANA. [seizing his arm] You shall not leave me alone in this dreadful place.
DON JUAN. Provided my staying be not interpreted as pursuit.
ANA. [releasing him] You may well wonder how I can endure your presence. My dear, dear father!
DON JUAN. Would you like to see him?
ANA. My father HERE!!!
DON JUAN. No: he is in heaven.
ANA. I knew it. My noble father! He is looking down on us now. What must he feel to see his daughter in this place, and in conversation with his murderer!
DON JUAN. By the way, if we should meet him—
ANA. How can we meet him? He is in heaven.
DON JUAN. He condescends to look in upon us here from time to time. Heaven bores him. So let me warn you that if you meet him he will be mortally offended if you speak of me as his murderer! He maintains that he was a much better swordsman than I, and that if his foot had not slipped he would have killed me. No doubt he is right: I was not a good fencer. I never dispute the point; so we are excellent friends.
ANA. It is no dishonor to a soldier to be proud of his skill in arms.
DON JUAN. You would rather not meet him, probably.
ANA. How dare you say that?
DON JUAN. Oh, that is the usual feeling here. You may remember that on earth—though of course we never confessed it—the death of anyone we knew, even those we liked best, was always mingled with a certain satisfaction at being finally done with them.
ANA. Monster! Never, never.
DON JUAN. [placidly] I see you recognize the feeling. Yes: a funeral was always a festivity in black, especially the funeral of a relative. At all events, family ties are rarely kept up here. Your father is quite accustomed to this: he will not expect any devotion from you.
ANA. Wretch: I wore mourning for him all my life.
DON JUAN. Yes: it became you. But a life of mourning is one thing: an eternity of it quite another. Besides, here you are as dead as he. Can anything be more ridiculous than one dead person mourning for another? Do not look shocked, my dear Ana; and do not be alarmed: there is plenty of humbug in hell (indeed there is hardly anything else); but the humbug of death and age and change is dropped because here WE are all dead and all eternal. You will pick up our ways soon.
ANA. And will all the men call me their dear Ana?
DON JUAN. No. That was a slip of the tongue. I beg your pardon.
ANA. [almost tenderly] Juan: did you really love me when you behaved so disgracefully to me?
DON JUAN. [impatiently] Oh, I beg you not to begin talking about love. Here they talk of nothing else but love—its beauty, its holiness, its spirituality, its devil knows what!—excuse me; but it does so bore me. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I do. They think they have achieved the perfection of love because they have no bodies. Sheer imaginative debauchery! Faugh!
ANA. Has even death failed to refine your soul, Juan? Has the terrible judgment of which my father’s statue was the minister taught you no reverence?
DON JUAN. How is that very flattering statue, by the way? Does it still come to supper with naughty people and cast them into this bottomless pit?
ANA. It has been a great expense to me. The boys in the monastery school would not let it alone: the mischievous ones broke it; and the studious ones wrote their names on it. Three new noses in two years, and fingers without end. I had to leave it to its fate at last; and now I fear it is shockingly mutilated. My poor father!
DON JUAN. Hush! Listen! [Two great chords rolling on syncopated waves of sound break forth: D minor and its dominant: a round of dreadful joy to all musicians]. Ha! Mozart’s statue music. It is your father. You had better disappear until I prepare him. [She vanishes].
From the void comes a living statue of white marble, designed to represent a majestic old man. But he waives his majesty with infinite grace; walks with a feather-like step; and makes every wrinkle in his war worn visage brim over with holiday joyousness. To his sculptor he owes a perfectly trained figure, which he carries erect and trim; and the ends of his moustache curl up, elastic as watchsprings, giving him an air which, but for its Spanish dignity, would be called jaunty. He is on the pleasantest terms with Don Juan. His voice, save for a much more distinguished intonation, is so like the voice of Roebuck Ramsden that it calls attention to the fact that they are not unlike one another in spite of their very different fashion of shaving.
DON JUAN. Ah, here you are, my friend. Why don’t you learn to sing the splendid music Mozart has written for you?
THE STATUE. Unluckily he has written it for a bass voice. Mine is a counter tenor. Well: have you repented yet?
DON JUAN. I have too much consideration for you to repent, Don Gonzalo. If I did, you would have no excuse for coming from Heaven to argue with me.
THE STATUE. True. Remain obdurate, my boy. I wish I had killed you, as I should have done but for an accident. Then I should have come here; and you would have had a statue and a reputation for piety to live up to. Any news?
DON JUAN. Yes: your daughter is dead.
THE STATUE. [puzzled] My daughter? [Recollecting] Oh! the one you were taken with. Let me see: what was her name?
DON JUAN. Ana.
THE STATUE. To be sure: Ana. A goodlooking girl, if I recollect aright. Have you warned Whatshisname—her husband?
DON JUAN. My friend Ottavio? No: I have not seen him since Ana arrived.
Ana comes indignantly to light.
ANA. What does this mean? Ottavio here and YOUR friend! And you, father, have forgotten my name. You are indeed turned to stone.
THE STATUE. My dear: I am so much more admired in marble than I ever was in my own person that I have retained the shape the sculptor gave me. He was one of the first men of his day: you must acknowledge that.
ANA. Father! Vanity! personal vanity! from you!
THE STATUE. Ah, you outlived that weakness, my daughter: you must be nearly 80 by this time. I was cut off (by an accident) in my 64th year, and am considerably your junior in consequence. Besides, my child, in this place, what our libertine friend here would call the farce of parental wisdom is dropped. Regard me, I beg, as a fellow creature, not as a father.
ANA. You speak as this villain speaks.
THE STATUE. Juan is a sound thinker, Ana. A bad fencer, but a sound thinker.
ANA. [horror creeping upon her] I begin to understand. These are devils, mocking me. I had better pray.
THE STATUE. [consoling her] No, no, no, my child: do not pray. If you do, you will throw away the main advantage of this place. Written over the gate here are the words “Leave every hope behind, ye who enter.” Only think what a relief that is! For what is hope? A form of moral responsibility. Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself. [Don Juan sighs deeply]. You sigh, friend Juan; but if you dwelt in heaven, as I do, you would realize your advantages.
DON JUAN. You are in good spirits to-day, Commander. You are positively brilliant. What is the matter?
THE STATUE. I have come to a momentous decision, my boy. But first, where is our friend the Devil? I must consult him in the matter. And Ana would like to make his acquaintance, no doubt.
ANA. You are preparing some torment for me.
DON JUAN. All that is superstition, Ana. Reassure yourself. Remember: the devil is not so black as he is painted.
THE STATUE. Let us give him a call.
At the wave of the statue’s hand the great chords roll out again but this time Mozart’s music gets grotesquely adulterated with Gounod’s. A scarlet halo begins to glow; and into it the Devil rises, very Mephistophelean, and not at all unlike Mendoza, though not so interesting. He looks older; is getting prematurely bald; and, in spite of an effusion of goodnature and friendliness, is peevish and sensitive when his advances are not reciprocated. He does not inspire much confidence in his powers of hard work or endurance, and is, on the whole, a disagreeably self-indulgent looking person; but he is clever and plausible, though perceptibly less well bred than the two other men, and enormously less vital than the woman.
THE DEVIL. [heartily] Have I the pleasure of again receiving a visit from the illustrious Commander of Calatrava? [Coldly] Don Juan, your servant. [Politely] And a strange lady? My respects, Senora.
ANA. Are you—
THE DEVIL. [bowing] Lucifer, at your service.
ANA. I shall go mad.
THE DEVIL. [gallantly] Ah, Senora, do not be anxious. You come to us from earth, full of the prejudices and terrors of that priest-ridden place. You have heard me ill spoken of; and yet, believe me, I have hosts of friends there.
ANA. Yes: you reign in their hearts.
THE DEVIL. [shaking his head] You flatter me, Senora; but you are mistaken. It is true that the world cannot get on without me; but it never gives me credit for that: in its heart it mistrusts and hates me. Its sympathies are all with misery, with poverty, with starvation of the body and of the heart. I call on it to sympathize with joy, with love, with happiness, with beauty.
DON JUAN. [nauseated] Excuse me: I am going. You know I cannot stand this.
THE DEVIL. [angrily] Yes: I know that you are no friend of mine.
THE STATUE. What harm is he doing you, Juan? It seems to me that he was talking excellent sense when you interrupted him.
THE DEVIL. [warmly shaking the statue’s hand] Thank you, my friend: thank you. You have always understood me: he has always disparaged and avoided me.
DON JUAN. I have treated you with perfect courtesy.
THE DEVIL. Courtesy! What is courtesy? I care nothing for mere courtesy. Give me warmth of heart, true sincerity, the bond of sympathy with love and joy—
DON JUAN. You are making me ill.
THE DEVIL. There! [Appealing to the statue] You hear, sir! Oh, by what irony of fate was this cold selfish egotist sent to my kingdom, and you taken to the icy mansions of the sky!
THE STATUE. I can’t complain. I was a hypocrite; and it served me right to be sent to heaven.
THE DEVIL. Why, sir, do you not join us, and leave a sphere for which your temperament is too sympathetic, your heart too warm, your capacity for enjoyment too generous?
THE STATUE. I have this day resolved to do so. In future, excellent Son of the Morning, I am yours. I have left Heaven for ever.
THE DEVIL. [again grasping his hand] Ah, what an honor for me! What a triumph for our cause! Thank you, thank you. And now, my friend—I may call you so at last—could you not persuade HIM to take the place you have left vacant above?
THE STATUE. [shaking his head] I cannot conscientiously recommend anybody with whom I am on friendly terms to deliberately make himself dull and uncomfortable.
THE DEVIL. Of course not; but are you sure HE would be uncomfortable? Of course you know best: you brought him here originally; and we had the greatest hopes of him. His sentiments were in the best taste of our best people. You remember how he sang? [He begins to sing in a nasal operatic baritone, tremulous from an eternity of misuse in the French manner].
Vivan le femmine! Viva il buon vino!
THE STATUE. [taking up the tune an octave higher in his counter tenor]
Sostegno a gloria D'umanita.
THE DEVIL. Precisely. Well, he never sings for us now.
DON JUAN. Do you complain of that? Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned. May not one lost soul be permitted to abstain?
THE DEVIL. You dare blaspheme against the sublimest of the arts!
DON JUAN. [with cold disgust] You talk like a hysterical woman fawning on a fiddler.
THE DEVIL. I am not angry. I merely pity you. You have no soul; and you are unconscious of all that you lose. Now you, Senor Commander, are a born musician. How well you sing! Mozart would be delighted if he were still here; but he moped and went to heaven. Curious how these clever men, whom you would have supposed born to be popular here, have turned out social failures, like Don Juan!
DON JUAN. I am really very sorry to be a social failure.
THE DEVIL. Not that we don’t admire your intellect, you know. We do. But I look at the matter from your own point of view. You don’t get on with us. The place doesn’t suit you. The truth is, you have—I won’t say no heart; for we know that beneath all your affected cynicism you have a warm one.
DON JUAN. [shrinking] Don’t, please don’t.
THE DEVIL. [nettled] Well, you’ve no capacity for enjoyment. Will that satisfy you?
DON JUAN. It is a somewhat less insufferable form of cant than the other. But if you’ll allow me, I’ll take refuge, as usual, in solitude.
THE DEVIL. Why not take refuge in Heaven? That’s the proper place for you. [To Ana] Come, Senora! could you not persuade him for his own good to try a change of air?
ANA. But can he go to Heaven if he wants to?
THE DEVIL. What’s to prevent him?
ANA. Can anybody—can I go to Heaven if I want to?
THE DEVIL. [rather contemptuously] Certainly, if your taste lies that way.
ANA. But why doesn’t everybody go to Heaven, then?
THE STATUE. [chuckling] I can tell you that, my dear. It’s because heaven is the most angelically dull place in all creation: that’s why.
THE DEVIL. His excellency the Commander puts it with military bluntness; but the strain of living in Heaven is intolerable. There is a notion that I was turned out of it; but as a matter of fact nothing could have induced me to stay there. I simply left it and organized this place.
THE STATUE. I don’t wonder at it. Nobody could stand an eternity of heaven.
THE DEVIL. Oh, it suits some people. Let us be just, Commander: it is a question of temperament. I don’t admire the heavenly temperament: I don’t understand it: I don’t know that I particularly want to understand it; but it takes all sorts to make a universe. There is no accounting for tastes: there are people who like it. I think Don Juan would like it.
DON JUAN. But—pardon my frankness—could you really go back there if you desired to; or are the grapes sour?
THE DEVIL. Back there! I often go back there. Have you never read the book of Job? Have you any canonical authority for assuming that there is any barrier between our circle and the other one?
ANA. But surely there is a great gulf fixed.
THE DEVIL. Dear lady: a parable must not be taken literally. The gulf is the difference between the angelic and the diabolic temperament. What more impassable gulf could you have? Think of what you have seen on earth. There is no physical gulf between the philosopher’s class room and the bull ring; but the bull fighters do not come to the class room for all that. Have you ever been in the country where I have the largest following—England? There they have great racecourses, and also concert rooms where they play the classical compositions of his Excellency’s friend Mozart. Those who go to the racecourses can stay away from them and go to the classical concerts instead if they like: there is no law against it; for Englishmen never will be slaves: they are free to do whatever the Government and public opinion allows them to do. And the classical concert is admitted to be a higher, more cultivated, poetic, intellectual, ennobling place than the racecourse. But do the lovers of racing desert their sport and flock to the concert room? Not they. They would suffer there all the weariness the Commander has suffered in heaven. There is the great gulf of the parable between the two places. A mere physical gulf they could bridge; or at least I could bridge it for them (the earth is full of Devil’s Bridges); but the gulf of dislike is impassable and eternal. And that is the only gulf that separates my friends here from those who are invidiously called the blest.
ANA. I shall go to heaven at once.
THE STATUE. My child; one word of warning first. Let me complete my friend Lucifer’s similitude of the classical concert. At every one of those concerts in England you will find rows of weary people who are there, not because they really like classical music, but because they think they ought to like it. Well, there is the same thing in heaven. A number of people sit there in glory, not because they are happy, but because they think they owe it to their position to be in heaven. They are almost all English.
THE DEVIL. Yes: the Southerners give it up and join me just as you have done. But the English really do not seem to know when they are thoroughly miserable. An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable.
THE STATUE. In short, my daughter, if you go to Heaven without being naturally qualified for it, you will not enjoy yourself there.
ANA. And who dares say that I am not naturally qualified for it? The most distinguished princes of the Church have never questioned it. I owe it to myself to leave this place at once.
THE DEVIL. [offended] As you please, Senora. I should have expected better taste from you.
ANA. Father: I shall expect you to come with me. You cannot stay here. What will people say?
THE STATUE. People! Why, the best people are here—princes of the church and all. So few go to Heaven, and so many come here, that the blest, once called a heavenly host, are a continually dwindling minority. The saints, the fathers, the elect of long ago are the cranks, the faddists, the outsiders of to-day.
THE DEVIL. It is true. From the beginning of my career I knew that I should win in the long run by sheer weight of public opinion, in spite of the long campaign of misrepresentation and calumny against me. At bottom the universe is a constitutional one; and with such a majority as mine I cannot be kept permanently out of office.
DON JUAN. I think, Ana, you had better stay here.
ANA. [jealously] You do not want me to go with you.
DON JUAN. Surely you do not want to enter Heaven in the company of a reprobate like me.
ANA. All souls are equally precious. You repent, do you not?
DON JUAN. My dear Ana, you are silly. Do you suppose heaven is like earth, where people persuade themselves that what is done can be undone by repentance; that what is spoken can be unspoken by withdrawing it; that what is true can be annihilated by a general agreement to give it the lie? No: heaven is the home of the masters of reality: that is why I am going thither.
ANA. Thank you: I am going to heaven for happiness. I have had quite enough of reality on earth.
DON JUAN. Then you must stay here; for hell is the home of the unreal and of the seekers for happiness. It is the only refuge from heaven, which is, as I tell you, the home of the masters of reality, and from earth, which is the home of the slaves of reality. The earth is a nursery in which men and women play at being heros and heroines, saints and sinners; but they are dragged down from their fool’s paradise by their bodies: hunger and cold and thirst, age and decay and disease, death above all, make them slaves of reality: thrice a day meals must be eaten and digested: thrice a century a new generation must be engendered: ages of faith, of romance, and of science are all driven at last to have but one prayer, “Make me a healthy animal.” But here you escape the tyranny of the flesh; for here you are not an animal at all: you are a ghost, an appearance, an illusion, a convention, deathless, ageless: in a word, bodiless. There are no social questions here, no political questions, no religious questions, best of all, perhaps, no sanitary questions. Here you call your appearance beauty, your emotions love, your sentiments heroism, your aspirations virtue, just as you did on earth; but here there are no hard facts to contradict you, no ironic contrast of your needs with your pretensions, no human comedy, nothing but a perpetual romance, a universal melodrama. As our German friend put it in his poem, “the poetically nonsensical here is good sense; and the Eternal Feminine draws us ever upward and on”—without getting us a step farther. And yet you want to leave this paradise!
ANA. But if Hell be so beautiful as this, how glorious must heaven be!
The Devil, the Statue, and Don Juan all begin to speak at once in violent protest; then stop, abashed.
DON JUAN. I beg your pardon.
THE DEVIL. Not at all. I interrupted you.
THE STATUE. You were going to say something.
DON JUAN. After you, gentlemen.
THE DEVIL. [to Don Juan] You have been so eloquent on the advantages of my dominions that I leave you to do equal justice to the drawbacks of the alternative establishment.
DON JUAN. In Heaven, as I picture it, dear lady, you live and work instead of playing and pretending. You face things as they are; you escape nothing but glamor; and your steadfastness and your peril are your glory. If the play still goes on here and on earth, and all the world is a stage, Heaven is at least behind the scenes. But Heaven cannot be described by metaphor. Thither I shall go presently, because there I hope to escape at last from lies and from the tedious, vulgar pursuit of happiness, to spend my eons in contemplation—
THE STATUE. Ugh!
DON JUAN. Senor Commander: I do not blame your disgust: a picture gallery is a dull place for a blind man. But even as you enjoy the contemplation of such romantic mirages as beauty and pleasure; so would I enjoy the contemplation of that which interests me above all things namely, Life: the force that ever strives to attain greater power of contemplating itself. What made this brain of mine, do you think? Not the need to move my limbs; for a rat with half my brains moves as well as I. Not merely the need to do, but the need to know what I do, lest in my blind efforts to live I should be slaying myself.
THE STATUE. You would have slain yourself in your blind efforts to fence but for my foot slipping, my friend.
DON JUAN. Audacious ribald: your laughter will finish in hideous boredom before morning.
THE STATUE. Ha ha! Do you remember how I frightened you when I said something like that to you from my pedestal in Seville? It sounds rather flat without my trombones.
DON JUAN. They tell me it generally sounds flat with them, Commander.
ANA. Oh, do not interrupt with these frivolities, father. Is there nothing in Heaven but contemplation, Juan?
DON JUAN. In the Heaven I seek, no other joy. But there is the work of helping Life in its struggle upward. Think of how it wastes and scatters itself, how it raises up obstacles to itself and destroys itself in its ignorance and blindness. It needs a brain, this irresistible force, lest in its ignorance it should resist itself. What a piece of work is man! says the poet. Yes: but what a blunderer! Here is the highest miracle of organization yet attained by life, the most intensely alive thing that exists, the most conscious of all the organisms; and yet, how wretched are his brains! Stupidity made sordid and cruel by the realities learnt from toil and poverty: Imagination resolved to starve sooner than face these realities, piling up illusions to hide them, and calling itself cleverness, genius! And each accusing the other of its own defect: Stupidity accusing Imagination of folly, and Imagination accusing Stupidity of ignorance: whereas, alas! Stupidity has all the knowledge, and Imagination all the intelligence.
THE DEVIL. And a pretty kettle of fish they make of it between them. Did I not say, when I was arranging that affair of Faust’s, that all Man’s reason has done for him is to make him beastlier than any beast. One splendid body is worth the brains of a hundred dyspeptic, flatulent philosophers.
DON JUAN. You forget that brainless magnificence of body has been tried. Things immeasurably greater than man in every respect but brain have existed and perished. The megatherium, the icthyosaurus have paced the earth with seven-league steps and hidden the day with cloud vast wings. Where are they now? Fossils in museums, and so few and imperfect at that, that a knuckle bone or a tooth of one of them is prized beyond the lives of a thousand soldiers. These things lived and wanted to live; but for lack of brains they did not know how to carry out their purpose, and so destroyed themselves.
THE DEVIL. And is Man any the less destroying himself for all this boasted brain of his? Have you walked up and down upon the earth lately? I have; and I have examined Man’s wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine. The peasant I tempt to-day eats and drinks what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady’s bonnet in a score of weeks. But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind. In the arts of peace Man is a bungler. I have seen his cotton factories and the like, with machinery that a greedy dog could have invented if it had wanted money instead of food. I know his clumsy typewriters and bungling locomotives and tedious bicycles: they are toys compared to the Maxim gun, the submarine torpedo boat. There is nothing in Man’s industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons. This marvellous force of Life of which you boast is a force of Death: Man measures his strength by his destructiveness. What is his religion? An excuse for hating ME. What is his law? An excuse for hanging YOU. What is his morality? Gentility! an excuse for consuming without producing. What is his art? An excuse for gloating over pictures of slaughter. What are his politics? Either the worship of a despot because a despot can kill, or parliamentary cockfighting. I spent an evening lately in a certain celebrated legislature, and heard the pot lecturing the kettle for its blackness, and ministers answering questions. When I left I chalked up on the door the old nursery saying—”Ask no questions and you will be told no lies.” I bought a sixpenny family magazine, and found it full of pictures of young men shooting and stabbing one another. I saw a man die: he was a London bricklayer’s laborer with seven children. He left seventeen pounds club money; and his wife spent it all on his funeral and went into the workhouse with the children next day. She would not have spent sevenpence on her children’s schooling: the law had to force her to let them be taught gratuitously; but on death she spent all she had. Their imagination glows, their energies rise up at the idea of death, these people: they love it; and the more horrible it is the more they enjoy it. Hell is a place far above their comprehension: they derive their notion of it from two of the greatest fools that ever lived, an Italian and an Englishman. The Italian described it as a place of mud, frost, filth, fire, and venomous serpents: all torture. This ass, when he was not lying about me, was maundering about some woman whom he saw once in the street. The Englishman described me as being expelled from Heaven by cannons and gunpowder; and to this day every Briton believes that the whole of his silly story is in the Bible. What else he says I do not know; for it is all in a long poem which neither I nor anyone else ever succeeded in wading through. It is the same in everything. The highest form of literature is the tragedy, a play in which everybody is murdered at the end. In the old chronicles you read of earthquakes and pestilences, and are told that these showed the power and majesty of God and the littleness of Man. Nowadays the chronicles describe battles. In a battle two bodies of men shoot at one another with bullets and explosive shells until one body runs away, when the others chase the fugitives on horseback and cut them to pieces as they fly. And this, the chronicle concludes, shows the greatness and majesty of empires, and the littleness of the vanquished. Over such battles the people run about the streets yelling with delight, and egg their Governments on to spend hundreds of millions of money in the slaughter, whilst the strongest Ministers dare not spend an extra penny in the pound against the poverty and pestilence through which they themselves daily walk. I could give you a thousand instances; but they all come to the same thing: the power that governs the earth is not the power of Life but of Death; and the inner need that has nerved Life to the effort of organizing itself into the human being is not the need for higher life but for a more efficient engine of destruction. The plague, the famine, the earthquake, the tempest were too spasmodic in their action; the tiger and crocodile were too easily satiated and not cruel enough: something more constantly, more ruthlessly, more ingeniously destructive was needed; and that something was Man, the inventor of the rack, the stake, the gallows, and the electrocutor; of the sword and gun; above all, of justice, duty, patriotism and all the other isms by which even those who are clever enough to be humanely disposed are persuaded to become the most destructive of all the destroyers.
DON JUAN. Pshaw! all this is old. Your weak side, my diabolic friend, is that you have always been a gull: you take Man at his own valuation. Nothing would flatter him more than your opinion of him. He loves to think of himself as bold and bad. He is neither one nor the other: he is only a coward. Call him tyrant, murderer, pirate, bully; and he will adore you, and swagger about with the consciousness of having the blood of the old sea kings in his veins. Call him liar and thief; and he will only take an action against you for libel. But call him coward; and he will go mad with rage: he will face death to outface that stinging truth. Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one; and that one is his cowardice. Yet all his civilization is founded on his cowardice, on his abject tameness, which he calls his respectability. There are limits to what a mule or an ass will stand; but Man will suffer himself to be degraded until his vileness becomes so loathsome to his oppressors that they themselves are forced to reform it.
THE DEVIL. Precisely. And these are the creatures in whom you discover what you call a Life Force!
DON JUAN. Yes; for now comes the most surprising part of the whole business.
THE STATUE. What’s that?
DON JUAN. Why, that you can make any of these cowards brave by simply putting an idea into his head.
THE STATUE. Stuff! As an old soldier I admit the cowardice: it’s as universal as sea sickness, and matters just as little. But that about putting an idea into a man’s head is stuff and nonsense. In a battle all you need to make you fight is a little hot blood and the knowledge that it’s more dangerous to lose than to win.
DON JUAN. That is perhaps why battles are so useless. But men never really overcome fear until they imagine they are fighting to further a universal purpose—fighting for an idea, as they call it. Why was the Crusader braver than the pirate? Because he fought, not for himself, but for the Cross. What force was it that met him with a valor as reckless as his own? The force of men who fought, not for themselves, but for Islam. They took Spain from us, though we were fighting for our very hearths and homes; but when we, too, fought for that mighty idea, a Catholic Church, we swept them back to Africa.
THE DEVIL. [ironically] What! you a Catholic, Senor Don Juan! A devotee! My congratulations.
THE STATUE. [seriously] Come come! as a soldier, I can listen to nothing against the Church.
DON JUAN. Have no fear, Commander: this idea of a Catholic Church will survive Islam, will survive the Cross, will survive even that vulgar pageant of incompetent schoolboyish gladiators which you call the Army.
THE STATUE. Juan: you will force me to call you to account for this.
DON JUAN. Useless: I cannot fence. Every idea for which Man will die will be a Catholic idea. When the Spaniard learns at last that he is no better than the Saracen, and his prophet no better than Mahomet, he will arise, more Catholic than ever, and die on a barricade across the filthy slum he starves in, for universal liberty and equality.
THE STATUE. Bosh!
DON JUAN. What you call bosh is the only thing men dare die for. Later on, Liberty will not be Catholic enough: men will die for human perfection, to which they will sacrifice all their liberty gladly.
THE DEVIL. Ay: they will never be at a loss for an excuse for killing one another.
DON JUAN. What of that? It is not death that matters, but the fear of death. It is not killing and dying that degrade us, but base living, and accepting the wages and profits of degradation. Better ten dead men than one live slave or his master. Men shall yet rise up, father against son and brother against brother, and kill one another for the great Catholic idea of abolishing slavery.
THE DEVIL. Yes, when the Liberty and Equality of which you prate shall have made free white Christians cheaper in the labor market than by auction at the block.
DON JUAN. Never fear! the white laborer shall have his turn too. But I am not now defending the illusory forms the great ideas take. I am giving you examples of the fact that this creature Man, who in his own selfish affairs is a coward to the backbone, will fight for an idea like a hero. He may be abject as a citizen; but he is dangerous as a fanatic. He can only be enslaved whilst he is spiritually weak enough to listen to reason. I tell you, gentlemen, if you can show a man a piece of what he now calls God’s work to do, and what he will later on call by many new names, you can make him entirely reckless of the consequences to himself personally.
ANA. Yes: he shirks all his responsibilities, and leaves his wife to grapple with them.
THE STATUE. Well said, daughter. Do not let him talk you out of your common sense.
THE DEVIL. Alas! Senor Commander, now that we have got on to the subject of Woman, he will talk more than ever. However, I confess it is for me the one supremely interesting subject.
DON JUAN. To a woman, Senora, man’s duties and responsibilities begin and end with the task of getting bread for her children. To her, Man is only a means to the end of getting children and rearing them.
ANA. Is that your idea of a woman’s mind? I call it cynical and disgusting materialism.
DON JUAN. Pardon me, Ana: I said nothing about a woman’s whole mind. I spoke of her view of Man as a separate sex. It is no more cynical than her view of herself as above all things a Mother. Sexually, Woman is Nature’s contrivance for perpetuating its highest achievement. Sexually, Man is Woman’s contrivance for fulfilling Nature’s behest in the most economical way. She knows by instinct that far back in the evolutional process she invented him, differentiated him, created him in order to produce something better than the single-sexed process can produce. Whilst he fulfils the purpose for which she made him, he is welcome to his dreams, his follies, his ideals, his heroisms, provided that the keystone of them all is the worship of woman, of motherhood, of the family, of the hearth. But how rash and dangerous it was to invent a separate creature whose sole function was her own impregnation! For mark what has happened. First, Man has multiplied on her hands until there are as many men as women; so that she has been unable to employ for her purposes more than a fraction of the immense energy she has left at his disposal by saving him the exhausting labor of gestation. This superfluous energy has gone to his brain and to his muscle. He has become too strong to be controlled by her bodily, and too imaginative and mentally vigorous to be content with mere self-reproduction. He has created civilization without consulting her, taking her domestic labor for granted as the foundation of it.
ANA. THAT is true, at all events.
THE DEVIL. Yes; and this civilization! what is it, after all?
DON JUAN. After all, an excellent peg to hang your cynical commonplaces on; but BEFORE all, it is an attempt on Man’s part to make himself something more than the mere instrument of Woman’s purpose. So far, the result of Life’s continual effort not only to maintain itself, but to achieve higher and higher organization and completer self-consciousness, is only, at best, a doubtful campaign between its forces and those of Death and Degeneration. The battles in this campaign are mere blunders, mostly won, like actual military battles, in spite of the commanders.
THE STATUE. That is a dig at me. No matter: go on, go on.
DON JUAN. It is a dig at a much higher power than you, Commander. Still, you must have noticed in your profession that even a stupid general can win battles when the enemy’s general is a little stupider.
THE STATUE. [very seriously] Most true, Juan, most true. Some donkeys have amazing luck.
DON JUAN. Well, the Life Force is stupid; but it is not so stupid as the forces of Death and Degeneration. Besides, these are in its pay all the time. And so Life wins, after a fashion. What mere copiousness of fecundity can supply and mere greed preserve, we possess. The survival of whatever form of civilization can produce the best rifle and the best fed riflemen is assured.
THE DEVIL. Exactly! the survival, not of the most effective means of Life but of the most effective means of Death. You always come back to my point, in spite of your wrigglings and evasions and sophistries, not to mention the intolerable length of your speeches.
DON JUAN. Oh come! who began making long speeches? However, if I overtax your intellect, you can leave us and seek the society of love and beauty and the rest of your favorite boredoms.
THE DEVIL. [much offended] This is not fair, Don Juan, and not civil. I am also on the intellectual plane. Nobody can appreciate it more than I do. I am arguing fairly with you, and, I think, utterly refuting you. Let us go on for another hour if you like.
DON JUAN. Good: let us.
THE STATUE. Not that I see any prospect of your coming to any point in particular, Juan. Still, since in this place, instead of merely killing time we have to kill eternity, go ahead by all means.
DON JUAN. [somewhat impatiently] My point, you marbleheaded old masterpiece, is only a step ahead of you. Are we agreed that Life is a force which has made innumerable experiments in organizing itself; that the mammoth and the man, the mouse and the megatherium, the flies and the fleas and the Fathers of the Church, are all more or less successful attempts to build up that raw force into higher and higher individuals, the ideal individual being omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, and withal completely, unilludedly self-conscious: in short, a god?
THE DEVIL. I agree, for the sake of argument.
THE STATUE. I agree, for the sake of avoiding argument.
ANA. I most emphatically disagree as regards the Fathers of the Church; and I must beg you not to drag them into the argument.
DON JUAN. I did so purely for the sake of alliteration, Ana; and I shall make no further allusion to them. And now, since we are, with that exception, agreed so far, will you not agree with me further that Life has not measured the success of its attempts at godhead by the beauty or bodily perfection of the result, since in both these respects the birds, as our friend Aristophanes long ago pointed out, are so extraordinarily superior, with their power of flight and their lovely plumage, and, may I add, the touching poetry of their loves and nestings, that it is inconceivable that Life, having once produced them, should, if love and beauty were her object, start off on another line and labor at the clumsy elephant and the hideous ape, whose grandchildren we are?
ANA. Aristophanes was a heathen; and you, Juan, I am afraid, are very little better.
THE DEVIL. You conclude, then, that Life was driving at clumsiness and ugliness?
DON JUAN. No, perverse devil that you are, a thousand times no. Life was driving at brains—at its darling object: an organ by which it can attain not only self-consciousness but self-understanding.
THE STATUE. This is metaphysics, Juan. Why the devil should—[to the Devil] I BEG your pardon.
THE DEVIL. Pray don’t mention it. I have always regarded the use of my name to secure additional emphasis as a high compliment to me. It is quite at your service, Commander.
THE STATUE. Thank you: that’s very good of you. Even in heaven, I never quite got out of my old military habits of speech. What I was going to ask Juan was why Life should bother itself about getting a brain. Why should it want to understand itself? Why not be content to enjoy itself?
DON JUAN. Without a brain, Commander, you would enjoy yourself without knowing it, and so lose all the fun.
THE STATUE. True, most true. But I am quite content with brain enough to know that I’m enjoying myself. I don’t want to understand why. In fact, I’d rather not. My experience is that one’s pleasures don’t bear thinking about.
DON JUAN. That is why intellect is so unpopular. But to Life, the force behind the Man, intellect is a necessity, because without it he blunders into death. Just as Life, after ages of struggle, evolved that wonderful bodily organ the eye, so that the living organism could see where it was going and what was coming to help or threaten it, and thus avoid a thousand dangers that formerly slew it, so it is evolving to-day a mind’s eye that shall see, not the physical world, but the purpose of Life, and thereby enable the individual to work for that purpose instead of thwarting and baffling it by setting up shortsighted personal aims as at present. Even as it is, only one sort of man has ever been happy, has ever been universally respected among all the conflicts of interests and illusions.
THE STATUE. You mean the military man.
DON JUAN. Commander: I do not mean the military man. When the military man approaches, the world locks up its spoons and packs off its womankind. No: I sing, not arms and the hero, but the philosophic man: he who seeks in contemplation to discover the inner will of the world, in invention to discover the means of fulfilling that will, and in action to do that will by the so-discovered means. Of all other sorts of men I declare myself tired. They’re tedious failures. When I was on earth, professors of all sorts prowled round me feeling for an unhealthy spot in me on which they could fasten. The doctors of medicine bade me consider what I must do to save my body, and offered me quack cures for imaginary diseases. I replied that I was not a hypochondriac; so they called me Ignoramus and went their way. The doctors of divinity bade me consider what I must do to save my soul; but I was not a spiritual hypochondriac any more than a bodily one, and would not trouble myself about that either; so they called me Atheist and went their way. After them came the politician, who said there was only one purpose in Nature, and that was to get him into parliament. I told him I did not care whether he got into parliament or not; so he called me Mugwump and went his way. Then came the romantic man, the Artist, with his love songs and his paintings and his poems; and with him I had great delight for many years, and some profit; for I cultivated my senses for his sake; and his songs taught me to hear better, his paintings to see better, and his poems to feel more deeply. But he led me at last into the worship of Woman.
DON JUAN. Yes: I came to believe that in her voice was all the music of the song, in her face all the beauty of the painting, and in her soul all the emotion of the poem.
ANA. And you were disappointed, I suppose. Well, was it her fault that you attributed all these perfections to her?
DON JUAN. Yes, partly. For with a wonderful instinctive cunning, she kept silent and allowed me to glorify her; to mistake my own visions, thoughts, and feelings for hers. Now my friend the romantic man was often too poor or too timid to approach those women who were beautiful or refined enough to seem to realize his ideal; and so he went to his grave believing in his dream. But I was more favored by nature and circumstance. I was of noble birth and rich; and when my person did not please, my conversation flattered, though I generally found myself fortunate in both.
THE STATUE. Coxcomb!
DON JUAN. Yes; but even my coxcombry pleased. Well, I found that when I had touched a woman’s imagination, she would allow me to persuade myself that she loved me; but when my suit was granted she never said “I am happy: my love is satisfied”: she always said, first, “At last, the barriers are down,” and second, “When will you come again?”
ANA. That is exactly what men say.
DON JUAN. I protest I never said it. But all women say it. Well, these two speeches always alarmed me; for the first meant that the lady’s impulse had been solely to throw down my fortifications and gain my citadel; and the second openly announced that henceforth she regarded me as her property, and counted my time as already wholly at her disposal.
THE DEVIL. That is where your want of heart came in.
THE STATUE. [shaking his head] You shouldn’t repeat what a woman says, Juan.
ANA. [severely] It should be sacred to you.
THE STATUE. Still, they certainly do always say it. I never minded the barriers; but there was always a slight shock about the other, unless one was very hard hit indeed.
DON JUAN. Then the lady, who had been happy and idle enough before, became anxious, preoccupied with me, always intriguing, conspiring, pursuing, watching, waiting, bent wholly on making sure of her prey—I being the prey, you understand. Now this was not what I had bargained for. It may have been very proper and very natural; but it was not music, painting, poetry and joy incarnated in a beautiful woman. I ran away from it. I ran away from it very often: in fact I became famous for running away from it.
ANA. Infamous, you mean.
DON JUAN. I did not run away from you. Do you blame me for running away from the others?
ANA. Nonsense, man. You are talking to a woman of 77 now. If you had had the chance, you would have run away from me too—if I had let you. You would not have found it so easy with me as with some of the others. If men will not be faithful to their home and their duties, they must be made to be. I daresay you all want to marry lovely incarnations of music and painting and poetry. Well, you can’t have them, because they don’t exist. If flesh and blood is not good enough for you you must go without: that’s all. Women have to put up with flesh-and-blood husbands—and little enough of that too, sometimes; and you will have to put up with flesh-and-blood wives. The Devil looks dubious. The Statue makes a wry face. I see you don’t like that, any of you; but it’s true, for all that; so if you don’t like it you can lump it.
DON JUAN. My dear lady, you have put my whole case against romance into a few sentences. That is just why I turned my back on the romantic man with the artist nature, as he called his infatuation. I thanked him for teaching me to use my eyes and ears; but I told him that his beauty worshipping and happiness hunting and woman idealizing was not worth a dump as a philosophy of life; so he called me Philistine and went his way.
ANA. It seems that Woman taught you something, too, with all her defects.
DON JUAN. She did more: she interpreted all the other teaching for me. Ah, my friends, when the barriers were down for the first time, what an astounding illumination! I had been prepared for infatuation, for intoxication, for all the illusions of love’s young dream; and lo! never was my perception clearer, nor my criticism more ruthless. The most jealous rival of my mistress never saw every blemish in her more keenly than I. I was not duped: I took her without chloroform.
ANA. But you did take her.
DON JUAN. That was the revelation. Up to that moment I had never lost the sense of being my own master; never consciously taken a single step until my reason had examined and approved it. I had come to believe that I was a purely rational creature: a thinker! I said, with the foolish philosopher, “I think; therefore I am.” It was Woman who taught me to say “I am; therefore I think.” And also “I would think more; therefore I must be more.”
THE STATUE. This is extremely abstract and metaphysical, Juan. If you would stick to the concrete, and put your discoveries in the form of entertaining anecdotes about your adventures with women, your conversation would be easier to follow.
DON JUAN. Bah! what need I add? Do you not understand that when I stood face to face with Woman, every fibre in my clear critical brain warned me to spare her and save myself. My morals said No. My conscience said No. My chivalry and pity for her said No. My prudent regard for myself said No. My ear, practised on a thousand songs and symphonies; my eye, exercised on a thousand paintings; tore her voice, her features, her color to shreds. I caught all those tell-tale resemblances to her father and mother by which I knew what she would be like in thirty years time. I noted the gleam of gold from a dead tooth in the laughing mouth: I made curious observations of the strange odors of the chemistry of the nerves. The visions of my romantic reveries, in which I had trod the plains of heaven with a deathless, ageless creature of coral and ivory, deserted me in that supreme hour. I remembered them and desperately strove to recover their illusion; but they now seemed the emptiest of inventions: my judgment was not to be corrupted: my brain still said No on every issue. And whilst I was in the act of framing my excuse to the lady, Life seized me and threw me into her arms as a sailor throws a scrap of fish into the mouth of a seabird.
THE STATUE. You might as well have gone without thinking such a lot about it, Juan. You are like all the clever men: you have more brains than is good for you.
THE DEVIL. And were you not the happier for the experience, Senor Don Juan?
DON JUAN. The happier, no: the wiser, yes. That moment introduced me for the first time to myself, and, through myself, to the world. I saw then how useless it is to attempt to impose conditions on the irresistible force of Life; to preach prudence, careful selection, virtue, honor, chastity—
ANA. Don Juan: a word against chastity is an insult to me.
DON JUAN. I say nothing against your chastity, Senora, since it took the form of a husband and twelve children. What more could you have done had you been the most abandoned of women?
ANA. I could have had twelve husbands and no children that’s what I could have done, Juan. And let me tell you that that would have made all the difference to the earth which I replenished.
THE STATUE. Bravo Ana! Juan: you are floored, quelled, annihilated.
DON JUAN. No; for though that difference is the true essential difference—Dona Ana has, I admit, gone straight to the real point—yet it is not a difference of love or chastity, or even constancy; for twelve children by twelve different husbands would have replenished the earth perhaps more effectively. Suppose my friend Ottavio had died when you were thirty, you would never have remained a widow: you were too beautiful. Suppose the successor of Ottavio had died when you were forty, you would still have been irresistible; and a woman who marries twice marries three times if she becomes free to do so. Twelve lawful children borne by one highly respectable lady to three different fathers is not impossible nor condemned by public opinion. That such a lady may be more law abiding than the poor girl whom we used to spurn into the gutter for bearing one unlawful infant is no doubt true; but dare you say she is less self-indulgent?
ANA. She is less virtuous: that is enough for me.
DON JUAN. In that case, what is virtue but the Trade Unionism of the married? Let us face the facts, dear Ana. The Life Force respects marriage only because marriage is a contrivance of its own to secure the greatest number of children and the closest care of them. For honor, chastity and all the rest of your moral figments it cares not a rap. Marriage is the most licentious of human institutions—
THE STATUE. [protesting] Really!—
DON JUAN. [determinedly] I say the most licentious of human institutions: that is the secret of its popularity. And a woman seeking a husband is the most unscrupulous of all the beasts of prey. The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error. Come, Ana! do not look shocked: you know better than any of us that marriage is a mantrap baited with simulated accomplishments and delusive idealizations. When your sainted mother, by dint of scoldings and punishments, forced you to learn how to play half a dozen pieces on the spinet which she hated as much as you did—had she any other purpose than to delude your suitors into the belief that your husband would have in his home an angel who would fill it with melody, or at least play him to sleep after dinner? You married my friend Ottavio: well, did you ever open the spinet from the hour when the Church united him to you?
ANA. You are a fool, Juan. A young married woman has something else to do than sit at the spinet without any support for her back; so she gets out of the habit of playing.
DON JUAN. Not if she loves music. No: believe me, she only throws away the bait when the bird is in the net.
ANA. [bitterly] And men, I suppose, never throw off the mask when their bird is in the net. The husband never becomes negligent, selfish, brutal—oh never!
DON JUAN. What do these recriminations prove, Ana? Only that the hero is as gross an imposture as the heroine.
ANA. It is all nonsense: most marriages are perfectly comfortable.
DON JUAN. “Perfectly” is a strong expression, Ana. What you mean is that sensible people make the best of one another. Send me to the galleys and chain me to the felon whose number happens to be next before mine; and I must accept the inevitable and make the best of the companionship. Many such companionships, they tell me, are touchingly affectionate; and most are at least tolerably friendly. But that does not make a chain a desirable ornament nor the galleys an abode of bliss. Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?
ANA. At all events, let me take an old woman’s privilege again, and tell you flatly that marriage peoples the world and debauchery does not.
DON JUAN. How if a time comes when this shall cease to be true? Do you not know that where there is a will there is a way—that whatever Man really wishes to do he will finally discover a means of doing? Well, you have done your best, you virtuous ladies, and others of your way of thinking, to bend Man’s mind wholly towards honorable love as the highest good, and to understand by honorable love romance and beauty and happiness in the possession of beautiful, refined, delicate, affectionate women. You have taught women to value their own youth, health, shapeliness, and refinement above all things. Well, what place have squalling babies and household cares in this exquisite paradise of the senses and emotions? Is it not the inevitable end of it all that the human will shall say to the human brain: Invent me a means by which I can have love, beauty, romance, emotion, passion without their wretched penalties, their expenses, their worries, their trials, their illnesses and agonies and risks of death, their retinue of servants and nurses and doctors and schoolmasters.
THE DEVIL. All this, Senor Don Juan, is realized here in my realm.
DON JUAN. Yes, at the cost of death. Man will not take it at that price: he demands the romantic delights of your hell whilst he is still on earth. Well, the means will be found: the brain will not fail when the will is in earnest. The day is coming when great nations will find their numbers dwindling from census to census; when the six roomed villa will rise in price above the family mansion; when the viciously reckless poor and the stupidly pious rich will delay the extinction of the race only by degrading it; whilst the boldly prudent, the thriftily selfish and ambitious, the imaginative and poetic, the lovers of money and solid comfort, the worshippers of success, art, and of love, will all oppose to the Force of Life the device of sterility.
THE STATUE. That is all very eloquent, my young friend; but if you had lived to Ana’s age, or even to mine, you would have learned that the people who get rid of the fear of poverty and children and all the other family troubles, and devote themselves to having a good time of it, only leave their minds free for the fear of old age and ugliness and impotence and death. The childless laborer is more tormented by his wife’s idleness and her constant demands for amusement and distraction than he could be by twenty children; and his wife is more wretched than he. I have had my share of vanity; for as a young man I was admired by women; and as a statue I am praised by art critics. But I confess that had I found nothing to do in the world but wallow in these delights I should have cut my throat. When I married Ana’s mother—or perhaps, to be strictly correct, I should rather say when I at last gave in and allowed Ana’s mother to marry me—I knew that I was planting thorns in my pillow, and that marriage for me, a swaggering young officer thitherto unvanquished, meant defeat and capture.
ANA. [scandalized] Father!
THE STATUE. I am sorry to shock you, my love; but since Juan has stripped every rag of decency from the discussion I may as well tell the frozen truth.
ANA. Hmf! I suppose I was one of the thorns.
THE STATUE. By no means: you were often a rose. You see, your mother had most of the trouble you gave.
DON JUAN. Then may I ask, Commander, why you have left Heaven to come here and wallow, as you express it, in sentimental beatitudes which you confess would once have driven you to cut your throat?
THE STATUE. [struck by this] Egad, that’s true.
THE DEVIL. [alarmed] What! You are going back from your word. [To Don Juan] And all your philosophizing has been nothing but a mask for proselytizing! [To the Statue] Have you forgotten already the hideous dulness from which I am offering you a refuge here? [To Don Juan] And does your demonstration of the approaching sterilization and extinction of mankind lead to anything better than making the most of those pleasures of art and love which you yourself admit refined you, elevated you, developed you?
DON JUAN. I never demonstrated the extinction of mankind. Life cannot will its own extinction either in its blind amorphous state or in any of the forms into which it has organized itself. I had not finished when His Excellency interrupted me.
THE STATUE. I begin to doubt whether you ever will finish, my friend. You are extremely fond of hearing yourself talk.
DON JUAN. True; but since you have endured so much you may as well endure to the end. Long before this sterilization which I described becomes more than a clearly foreseen possibility, the reaction will begin. The great central purpose of breeding the race, ay, breeding it to heights now deemed superhuman: that purpose which is now hidden in a mephitic cloud of love and romance and prudery and fastidiousness, will break through into clear sunlight as a purpose no longer to be confused with the gratification of personal fancies, the impossible realization of boys’ and girls’ dreams of bliss, or the need of older people for companionship or money. The plain-spoken marriage services of the vernacular Churches will no longer be abbreviated and half suppressed as indelicate. The sober decency, earnestness and authority of their declaration of the real purpose of marriage will be honored and accepted, whilst their romantic vowings and pledgings and until-death-do-us-partings and the like will be expunged as unbearable frivolities. Do my sex the justice to admit, Senora, that we have always recognized that the sex relation is not a personal or friendly relation at all.
ANA. Not a personal or friendly relation! What relation is more personal? more sacred? more holy?
DON JUAN. Sacred and holy, if you like, Ana, but not personally friendly. Your relation to God is sacred and holy: dare you call it personally friendly? In the sex relation the universal creative energy, of which the parties are both the helpless agents, over-rides and sweeps away all personal considerations and dispenses with all personal relations. The pair may be utter strangers to one another, speaking different languages, differing in race and color, in age and disposition, with no bond between them but a possibility of that fecundity for the sake of which the Life Force throws them into one another’s arms at the exchange of a glance. Do we not recognize this by allowing marriages to be made by parents without consulting the woman? Have you not often expressed your disgust at the immorality of the English nation, in which women and men of noble birth become acquainted and court each other like peasants? And how much does even the peasant know of his bride or she of him before he engages himself? Why, you would not make a man your lawyer or your family doctor on so slight an acquaintance as you would fall in love with and marry him!
ANA. Yes, Juan: we know the libertine’s philosophy. Always ignore the consequences to the woman.
DON JUAN. The consequences, yes: they justify her fierce grip of the man. But surely you do not call that attachment a sentimental one. As well call the policeman’s attachment to his prisoner a love relation.
ANA. You see you have to confess that marriage is necessary, though, according to you, love is the slightest of all the relations.
DON JUAN. How do you know that it is not the greatest of all the relations? far too great to be a personal matter. Could your father have served his country if he had refused to kill any enemy of Spain unless he personally hated him? Can a woman serve her country if she refuses to marry any man she does not personally love? You know it is not so: the woman of noble birth marries as the man of noble birth fights, on political and family grounds, not on personal ones.
THE STATUE. [impressed] A very clever point that, Juan: I must think it over. You are really full of ideas. How did you come to think of this one?
DON JUAN. I learnt it by experience. When I was on earth, and made those proposals to ladies which, though universally condemned, have made me so interesting a hero of legend, I was not infrequently met in some such way as this. The lady would say that she would countenance my advances, provided they were honorable. On inquiring what that proviso meant, I found that it meant that I proposed to get possession of her property if she had any, or to undertake her support for life if she had not; that I desired her continual companionship, counsel and conversation to the end of my days, and would bind myself under penalties to be always enraptured by them; and, above all, that I would turn my back on all other women for ever for her sake. I did not object to these conditions because they were exorbitant and inhuman: it was their extraordinary irrelevance that prostrated me. I invariably replied with perfect frankness that I had never dreamt of any of these things; that unless the lady’s character and intellect were equal or superior to my own, her conversation must degrade and her counsel mislead me; that her constant companionship might, for all I knew, become intolerably tedious to me; that I could not answer for my feelings for a week in advance, much less to the end of my life; that to cut me off from all natural and unconstrained relations with the rest of my fellow creatures would narrow and warp me if I submitted to it, and, if not, would bring me under the curse of clandestinity; that, finally, my proposals to her were wholly unconnected with any of these matters, and were the outcome of a perfectly simple impulse of my manhood towards her womanhood.
ANA. You mean that it was an immoral impulse.
DON JUAN. Nature, my dear lady, is what you call immoral. I blush for it; but I cannot help it. Nature is a pandar, Time a wrecker, and Death a murderer. I have always preferred to stand up to those facts and build institutions on their recognition. You prefer to propitiate the three devils by proclaiming their chastity, their thrift, and their loving kindness; and to base your institutions on these flatteries. Is it any wonder that the institutions do not work smoothly?
THE STATUE. What used the ladies to say, Juan?
DON JUAN. Oh, come! Confidence for confidence. First tell me what you used to say to the ladies.
THE STATUE. I! Oh, I swore that I would be faithful to the death; that I should die if they refused me; that no woman could ever be to me what she was—
ANA. She? Who?
THE STATUE. Whoever it happened to be at the time, my dear. I had certain things I always said. One of them was that even when I was eighty, one white hair of the woman I loved would make me tremble more than the thickest gold tress from the most beautiful young head. Another was that I could not bear the thought of anyone else being the mother of my children.
DON JUAN. [revolted] You old rascal!
THE STATUE. [Stoutly] Not a bit; for I really believed it with all my soul at the moment. I had a heart: not like you. And it was this sincerity that made me successful.
DON JUAN. Sincerity! To be fool enough to believe a ramping, stamping, thumping lie: that is what you call sincerity! To be so greedy for a woman that you deceive yourself in your eagerness to deceive her: sincerity, you call it!
THE STATUE. Oh, damn your sophistries! I was a man in love, not a lawyer. And the women loved me for it, bless them!
DON JUAN. They made you think so. What will you say when I tell you that though I played the lawyer so callously, they made me think so too? I also had my moments of infatuation in which I gushed nonsense and believed it. Sometimes the desire to give pleasure by saying beautiful things so rose in me on the flood of emotion that I said them recklessly. At other times I argued against myself with a devilish coldness that drew tears. But I found it just as hard to escape in the one case as in the others. When the lady’s instinct was set on me, there was nothing for it but lifelong servitude or flight.
ANA. You dare boast, before me and my father, that every woman found you irresistible.
DON JUAN. Am I boasting? It seems to me that I cut the most pitiable of figures. Besides, I said “when the lady’s instinct was set on me.” It was not always so; and then, heavens! what transports of virtuous indignation! what overwhelming defiance to the dastardly seducer! what scenes of Imogen and Iachimo!
ANA. I made no scenes. I simply called my father.
DON JUAN. And he came, sword in hand, to vindicate outraged honor and morality by murdering me.
THE STATUE. Murdering! What do you mean? Did I kill you or did you kill me?
DON JUAN. Which of us was the better fencer?
THE STATUE. I was.
DON JUAN. Of course you were. And yet you, the hero of those scandalous adventures you have just been relating to us, you had the effrontery to pose as the avenger of outraged morality and condemn me to death! You would have slain me but for an accident.
THE STATUE. I was expected to, Juan. That is how things were arranged on earth. I was not a social reformer; and I always did what it was customary for a gentleman to do.
DON JUAN. That may account for your attacking me, but not for the revolting hypocrisy of your subsequent proceedings as a statue.
THE STATUE. That all came of my going to Heaven.
THE DEVIL. I still fail to see, Senor Don Juan, that these episodes in your earthly career and in that of the Senor Commander in any way discredit my view of life. Here, I repeat, you have all that you sought without anything that you shrank from.
DON JUAN. On the contrary, here I have everything that disappointed me without anything that I have not already tried and found wanting. I tell you that as long as I can conceive something better than myself I cannot be easy unless I am striving to bring it into existence or clearing the way for it. That is the law of my life. That is the working within me of Life’s incessant aspiration to higher organization, wider, deeper, intenser self-consciousness, and clearer self-understanding. It was the supremacy of this purpose that reduced love for me to the mere pleasure of a moment, art for me to the mere schooling of my faculties, religion for me to a mere excuse for laziness, since it had set up a God who looked at the world and saw that it was good, against the instinct in me that looked through my eyes at the world and saw that it could be improved. I tell you that in the pursuit of my own pleasure, my own health, my own fortune, I have never known happiness. It was not love for Woman that delivered me into her hands: it was fatigue, exhaustion. When I was a child, and bruised my head against a stone, I ran to the nearest woman and cried away my pain against her apron. When I grew up, and bruised my soul against the brutalities and stupidities with which I had to strive, I did again just what I had done as a child. I have enjoyed, too, my rests, my recuperations, my breathing times, my very prostrations after strife; but rather would I be dragged through all the circles of the foolish Italian’s Inferno than through the pleasures of Europe. That is what has made this place of eternal pleasures so deadly to me. It is the absence of this instinct in you that makes you that strange monster called a Devil. It is the success with which you have diverted the attention of men from their real purpose, which in one degree or another is the same as mine, to yours, that has earned you the name of The Tempter. It is the fact that they are doing your will, or rather drifting with your want of will, instead of doing their own, that makes them the uncomfortable, false, restless, artificial, petulant, wretched creatures they are.
THE DEVIL. [mortified] Senor Don Juan: you are uncivil to my friends.
DON JUAN. Pooh! why should I be civil to them or to you? In this Palace of Lies a truth or two will not hurt you. Your friends are all the dullest dogs I know. They are not beautiful: they are only decorated. They are not clean: they are only shaved and starched. They are not dignified: they are only fashionably dressed. They are not educated they are only college passmen. They are not religious: they are only pewrenters. They are not moral: they are only conventional. They are not virtuous: they are only cowardly. They are not even vicious: they are only “frail.” They are not artistic: they are only lascivious. They are not prosperous: they are only rich. They are not loyal, they are only servile; not dutiful, only sheepish; not public spirited, only patriotic; not courageous, only quarrelsome; not determined, only obstinate; not masterful, only domineering; not self-controlled, only obtuse; not self-respecting, only vain; not kind, only sentimental; not social, only gregarious; not considerate, only polite; not intelligent, only opinionated; not progressive, only factious; not imaginative, only superstitious; not just, only vindictive; not generous, only propitiatory; not disciplined, only cowed; and not truthful at all—liars every one of them, to the very backbone of their souls.
THE STATUE. Your flow of words is simply amazing, Juan. How I wish I could have talked like that to my soldiers.
THE DEVIL. It is mere talk, though. It has all been said before; but what change has it ever made? What notice has the world ever taken of it?
DON JUAN. Yes, it is mere talk. But why is it mere talk? Because, my friend, beauty, purity, respectability, religion, morality, art, patriotism, bravery and the rest are nothing but words which I or anyone else can turn inside out like a glove. Were they realities, you would have to plead guilty to my indictment; but fortunately for your self-respect, my diabolical friend, they are not realities. As you say, they are mere words, useful for duping barbarians into adopting civilization, or the civilized poor into submitting to be robbed and enslaved. That is the family secret of the governing caste; and if we who are of that caste aimed at more Life for the world instead of at more power and luxury for our miserable selves, that secret would make us great. Now, since I, being a nobleman, am in the secret too, think how tedious to me must be your unending cant about all these moralistic figments, and how squalidly disastrous your sacrifice of your lives to them! If you even believed in your moral game enough to play it fairly, it would be interesting to watch; but you don’t: you cheat at every trick; and if your opponent outcheats you, you upset the table and try to murder him.
THE DEVIL. On earth there may be some truth in this, because the people are uneducated and cannot appreciate my religion of love and beauty; but here—
DON JUAN. Oh yes: I know. Here there is nothing but love and beauty. Ugh! it is like sitting for all eternity at the first act of a fashionable play, before the complications begin. Never in my worst moments of superstitious terror on earth did I dream that Hell was so horrible. I live, like a hairdresser, in the continual contemplation of beauty, toying with silken tresses. I breathe an atmosphere of sweetness, like a confectioner’s shopboy. Commander: are there any beautiful women in Heaven?
THE STATUE. None. Absolutely none. All dowdies. Not two pennorth of jewellery among a dozen of them. They might be men of fifty.
DON JUAN. I am impatient to get there. Is the word beauty ever mentioned; and are there any artistic people?
THE STATUE. I give you my word they won’t admire a fine statue even when it walks past them.
DON JUAN. I go.
THE DEVIL. Don Juan: shall I be frank with you?
DON JUAN. Were you not so before?
THE DEVIL. As far as I went, yes. But I will now go further, and confess to you that men get tired of everything, of heaven no less than of hell; and that all history is nothing but a record of the oscillations of the world between these two extremes. An epoch is but a swing of the pendulum; and each generation thinks the world is progressing because it is always moving. But when you are as old as I am; when you have a thousand times wearied of heaven, like myself and the Commander, and a thousand times wearied of hell, as you are wearied now, you will no longer imagine that every swing from heaven to hell is an emancipation, every swing from hell to heaven an evolution. Where you now see reform, progress, fulfilment of upward tendency, continual ascent by Man on the stepping stones of his dead selves to higher things, you will see nothing but an infinite comedy of illusion. You will discover the profound truth of the saying of my friend Koheleth, that there is nothing new under the sun. Vanitas vanitatum—
DON JUAN. [out of all patience] By Heaven, this is worse than your cant about love and beauty. Clever dolt that you are, is a man no better than a worm, or a dog than a wolf, because he gets tired of everything? Shall he give up eating because he destroys his appetite in the act of gratifying it? Is a field idle when it is fallow? Can the Commander expend his hellish energy here without accumulating heavenly energy for his next term of blessedness? Granted that the great Life Force has hit on the device of the clockmaker’s pendulum, and uses the earth for its bob; that the history of each oscillation, which seems so novel to us the actors, is but the history of the last oscillation repeated; nay more, that in the unthinkable infinitude of time the sun throws off the earth and catches it again a thousand times as a circus rider throws up a ball, and that the total of all our epochs is but the moment between the toss and the catch, has the colossal mechanism no purpose?
THE DEVIL. None, my friend. You think, because you have a purpose, Nature must have one. You might as well expect it to have fingers and toes because you have them.
DON JUAN. But I should not have them if they served no purpose. And I, my friend, am as much a part of Nature as my own finger is a part of me. If my finger is the organ by which I grasp the sword and the mandoline, my brain is the organ by which Nature strives to understand itself. My dog’s brain serves only my dog’s purposes; but my brain labors at a knowledge which does nothing for me personally but make my body bitter to me and my decay and death a calamity. Were I not possessed with a purpose beyond my own I had better be a ploughman than a philosopher; for the ploughman lives as long as the philosopher, eats more, sleeps better, and rejoices in the wife of his bosom with less misgiving. This is because the philosopher is in the grip of the Life Force. This Life Force says to him “I have done a thousand wonderful things unconsciously by merely willing to live and following the line of least resistance: now I want to know myself and my destination, and choose my path; so I have made a special brain—a philosopher’s brain—to grasp this knowledge for me as the husbandman’s hand grasps the plough for me. And this” says the Life Force to the philosopher “must thou strive to do for me until thou diest, when I will make another brain and another philosopher to carry on the work.”
THE DEVIL. What is the use of knowing?
DON JUAN. Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. Does a ship sail to its destination no better than a log drifts nowhither? The philosopher is Nature’s pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.
THE DEVIL. On the rocks, most likely.
DON JUAN. Pooh! which ship goes oftenest on the rocks or to the bottom—the drifting ship or the ship with a pilot on board?
THE DEVIL. Well, well, go your way, Senor Don Juan. I prefer to be my own master and not the tool of any blundering universal force. I know that beauty is good to look at; that music is good to hear; that love is good to feel; and that they are all good to think about and talk about. I know that to be well exercised in these sensations, emotions, and studies is to be a refined and cultivated being. Whatever they may say of me in churches on earth, I know that it is universally admitted in good society that the prince of Darkness is a gentleman; and that is enough for me. As to your Life Force, which you think irresistible, it is the most resistible thing in the world for a person of any character. But if you are naturally vulgar and credulous, as all reformers are, it will thrust you first into religion, where you will sprinkle water on babies to save their souls from me; then it will drive you from religion into science, where you will snatch the babies from the water sprinkling and inoculate them with disease to save them from catching it accidentally; then you will take to politics, where you will become the catspaw of corrupt functionaries and the henchman of ambitious humbugs; and the end will be despair and decrepitude, broken nerve and shattered hopes, vain regrets for that worst and silliest of wastes and sacrifices, the waste and sacrifice of the power of enjoyment: in a word, the punishment of the fool who pursues the better before he has secured the good.
DON JUAN. But at least I shall not be bored. The service of the Life Force has that advantage, at all events. So fare you well, Senor Satan.
THE DEVIL. [amiably] Fare you well, Don Juan. I shall often think of our interesting chats about things in general. I wish you every happiness: Heaven, as I said before, suits some people. But if you should change your mind, do not forget that the gates are always open here to the repentant prodigal. If you feel at any time that warmth of heart, sincere unforced affection, innocent enjoyment, and warm, breathing, palpitating reality—
DON JUAN. Why not say flesh and blood at once, though we have left those two greasy commonplaces behind us?
THE DEVIL. [angrily] You throw my friendly farewell back in my teeth, then, Don Juan?
DON JUAN. By no means. But though there is much to be learnt from a cynical devil, I really cannot stand a sentimental one. Senor Commander: you know the way to the frontier of hell and heaven. Be good enough to direct me.
THE STATUE. Oh, the frontier is only the difference between two ways of looking at things. Any road will take you across it if you really want to get there.
DON JUAN. Good. [saluting Dona Ana] Senora: your servant.
ANA. But I am going with you.
DON JUAN. I can find my own way to heaven, Ana; but I cannot find yours [he vanishes].
ANA. How annoying!
THE STATUE. [calling after him] Bon voyage, Juan! [He wafts a final blast of his great rolling chords after him as a parting salute. A faint echo of the first ghostly melody comes back in acknowledgment]. Ah! there he goes. [Puffing a long breath out through his lips] Whew! How he does talk! They’ll never stand it in heaven.
THE DEVIL. [gloomily] His going is a political defeat. I cannot keep these Life Worshippers: they all go. This is the greatest loss I have had since that Dutch painter went—a fellow who would paint a hag of 70 with as much enjoyment as a Venus of 20.
THE STATUE. I remember: he came to heaven. Rembrandt.
THE DEVIL. Ay, Rembrandt. There a something unnatural about these fellows. Do not listen to their gospel, Senor Commander: it is dangerous. Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human. To a man, horses and dogs and cats are mere species, outside the moral world. Well, to the Superman, men and women are a mere species too, also outside the moral world. This Don Juan was kind to women and courteous to men as your daughter here was kind to her pet cats and dogs; but such kindness is a denial of the exclusively human character of the soul.
THE STATUE. And who the deuce is the Superman?
THE DEVIL. Oh, the latest fashion among the Life Force fanatics. Did you not meet in Heaven, among the new arrivals, that German Polish madman—what was his name? Nietzsche?
THE STATUE. Never heard of him.
THE DEVIL. Well, he came here first, before he recovered his wits. I had some hopes of him; but he was a confirmed Life Force worshipper. It was he who raked up the Superman, who is as old as Prometheus; and the 20th century will run after this newest of the old crazes when it gets tired of the world, the flesh, and your humble servant.
THE STATUE. Superman is a good cry; and a good cry is half the battle. I should like to see this Nietzsche.
THE DEVIL. Unfortunately he met Wagner here, and had a quarrel with him.
THE STATUE. Quite right, too. Mozart for me!
THE DEVIL. Oh, it was not about music. Wagner once drifted into Life Force worship, and invented a Superman called Siegfried. But he came to his senses afterwards. So when they met here, Nietzsche denounced him as a renegade; and Wagner wrote a pamphlet to prove that Nietzsche was a Jew; and it ended in Nietzsche’s going to heaven in a huff. And a good riddance too. And now, my friend, let us hasten to my palace and celebrate your arrival with a grand musical service.
THE STATUE. With pleasure: you’re most kind.
THE DEVIL. This way, Commander. We go down the old trap [he places himself on the grave trap].
THE STATUE. Good. [Reflectively] All the same, the Superman is a fine conception. There is something statuesque about it. [He places himself on the grave trap beside The Devil. It begins to descend slowly. Red glow from the abyss]. Ah, this reminds me of old times.
THE DEVIL. And me also.
ANA. Stop! [The trap stops].
THE DEVIL. You, Senora, cannot come this way. You will have an apotheosis. But you will be at the palace before us.
ANA. That is not what I stopped you for. Tell me where can I find the Superman?
THE DEVIL. He is not yet created, Senora.
THE STATUE. And never will be, probably. Let us proceed: the red fire will make me sneeze. [They descend].
ANA. Not yet created! Then my work is not yet done. [Crossing herself devoutly] I believe in the Life to Come. [Crying to the universe] A father—a father for the Superman!
She vanishes into the void; and again there is nothing: all existence seems suspended infinitely. Then, vaguely, there is a live human voice crying somewhere. One sees, with a shock, a mountain peak showing faintly against a lighter background. The sky has returned from afar; and we suddenly remember where we were. The cry becomes distinct and urgent: it says Automobile, Automobile. The complete reality comes back with a rush: in a moment it is full morning in the Sierra; and the brigands are scrambling to their feet and making for the road as the goatherd runs down from the hill, warning them of the approach of another motor. Tanner and Mendoza rise amazedly and stare at one another with scattered wits. Straker sits up to yawn for a moment before he gets on his feet, making it a point of honor not to show any undue interest in the excitement of the bandits. Mendoza gives a quick look to see that his followers are attending to the alarm; then exchanges a private word with Tanner.
MENDOZA. Did you dream?
TANNER. Damnably. Did you?
MENDOZA. Yes. I forget what. You were in it.
TANNER. So were you. Amazing
MENDOZA. I warned you. [a shot is heard from the road]. Dolts! they will play with that gun. [The brigands come running back scared]. Who fired that shot? [to Duval] Was it you?
DUVAL. [breathless] I have not shoot. Dey shoot first.
ANARCHIST. I told you to begin by abolishing the State. Now we are all lost.
THE ROWDY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [stampeding across the amphitheatre] Run, everybody.
MENDOZA. [collaring him; throwing him on his back; and drawing a knife] I stab the man who stirs. [He blocks the way. The stampede it checked]. What has happened?
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT, A motor—
THE ANARCHIST. Three men—
DUVAL. Deux femmes—
MENDOZA. Three men and two women! Why have you not brought them here? Are you afraid of them?
THE ROWDY ONE. [getting up] Thyve a hescort. Ow, de-ooh lut’s ook it, Mendowza.
THE SULKY ONE. Two armored cars full o soldiers at the end o the valley.
ANARCHIST. The shot was fired in the air. It was a signal.
Straker whistles his favorite air, which falls on the ears of the brigands like a funeral march.
TANNER. It is not an escort, but an expedition to capture you. We were advised to wait for it; but I was in a hurry.
THE ROWDY ONE. [in an agony of apprehension] And Ow my good Lord, ere we are, wytin for em! Lut’s tike to the mahntns.
MENDOZA. Idiot, what do you know about the mountains? Are you a Spaniard? You would be given up by the first shepherd you met. Besides, we are already within range of their rifles.
THE ROWDY ONE. Bat—
MENDOZA. Silence. Leave this to me. [To Tanner] Comrade: you will not betray us.
STRAKER. Oo are you callin comrade?
MENDOZA. Last night the advantage was with me. The robber of the poor was at the mercy of the robber of the rich. You offered your hand: I took it.
TANNER. I bring no charge against you, comrade. We have spent a pleasant evening with you: that is all.
STRAKER. I gev my and to nobody, see?
MENDOZA. [turning on him impressively] Young man, if I am tried, I shall plead guilty, and explain what drove me from England, home and duty. Do you wish to have the respectable name of Straker dragged through the mud of a Spanish criminal court? The police will search me. They will find Louisa’s portrait. It will be published in the illustrated papers. You blench. It will be your doing, remember.
STRAKER. [with baffled rage] I don’t care about the court. It’s avin our name mixed up with yours that I object to, you blackmailin swine, you.
MENDOZA. Language unworthy of Louisa’s brother! But no matter: you are muzzled: that is enough for us. [He turns to face his own men, who back uneasily across the amphitheatre towards the cave to take refuge behind him, as a fresh party, muffled for motoring, comes from the road in riotous spirits. Ann, who makes straight for Tanner, comes first; then Violet, helped over the rough ground by Hector holding her right hand and Ramsden her left. Mendoza goes to his presidential block and seats himself calmly with his rank and file grouped behind him, and his Staff, consisting of Duval and the Anarchist on his right and the two Social-Democrats on his left, supporting him in flank].
ANN. It’s Jack!
HECTOR. Why, certainly it is. I said it was you, Tanner, We’ve just been stopped by a puncture: the road is full of nails.
VIOLET. What are you doing here with all these men?
ANN. Why did you leave us without a word of warning?
HECTOR. I want that bunch of roses, Miss Whitefield. [To Tanner] When we found you were gone, Miss Whitefield bet me a bunch of roses my car would not overtake yours before you reached Monte Carlo.
TANNER. But this is not the road to Monte Carlo.
HECTOR. No matter. Miss Whitefield tracked you at every stopping place: she is a regular Sherlock Holmes.
TANNER. The Life Force! I am lost.
OCTAVIUS. [Bounding gaily down from the road into the amphitheatre, and coming between Tanner and Straker] I am so glad you are safe, old chap. We were afraid you had been captured by brigands.
RAMSDEN. [who has been staring at Mendoza] I seem to remember the face of your friend here. [Mendoza rises politely and advances with a smile between Ann and Ramsden].
HECTOR. Why, so do I.
OCTAVIUS. I know you perfectly well, Sir; but I can’t think where I have met you.
MENDOZA. [to Violet] Do YOU remember me, madam?
VIOLET. Oh, quite well; but I am so stupid about names.
MENDOZA. It was at the Savoy Hotel. [To Hector] You, sir, used to come with this lady [Violet] to lunch. [To Octavius] You, sir, often brought this lady [Ann] and her mother to dinner on your way to the Lyceum Theatre. [To Ramsden] You, sir, used to come to supper, with [dropping his voice to a confidential but perfectly audible whisper] several different ladies.
RAMSDEN. [angrily] Well, what is that to you, pray?
OCTAVIUS. Why, Violet, I thought you hardly knew one another before this trip, you and Malone!
VIOLET. [vexed] I suppose this person was the manager.
MENDOZA. The waiter, madam. I have a grateful recollection of you all. I gathered from the bountiful way in which you treated me that you all enjoyed your visits very much.
VIOLET. What impertinence! [She turns her back on him, and goes up the hill with Hector].
RAMSDEN. That will do, my friend. You do not expect these ladies to treat you as an acquaintance, I suppose, because you have waited on them at table.
MENDOZA. Pardon me: it was you who claimed my acquaintance. The ladies followed your example. However, this display of the unfortunate manners of your class closes the incident. For the future, you will please address me with the respect due to a stranger and fellow traveller. [He turns haughtily away and resumes his presidential seat].
TANNER. There! I have found one man on my journey capable of reasonable conversation; and you all instinctively insult him. Even the New Man is as bad as any of you. Enry: you have behaved just like a miserable gentleman.
STRAKER. Gentleman! Not me.
RAMSDEN. Really, Tanner, this tone—
ANN. Don’t mind him, Granny: you ought to know him by this time [she takes his arm and coaxes him away to the hill to join Violet and Hector. Octavius follows her, doglike].
VIOLET. [calling from the hill] Here are the soldiers. They are getting out of their motors.
DUVAL. [panicstricken] Oh, nom de Dieu!
THE ANARCHIST. Fools: the State is about to crush you because you spared it at the prompting of the political hangers-on of the bourgeoisie.
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [argumentative to the last] On the contrary, only by capturing the State machine—
THE ANARCHIST. It is going to capture you.
THE ROWDY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. [his anguish culminating] Ow, chock it. Wot are we ere for? WOT are we wytin for?
MENDOZA. [between his teeth] Goon. Talk politics, you idiots: nothing sounds more respectable. Keep it up, I tell you.
The soldiers line the road, commanding the amphitheatre with their rifles. The brigands, struggling with an over-whelming impulse to hide behind one another, look as unconcerned as they can. Mendoza rises superbly, with undaunted front. The officer in command steps down from the road in to the amphitheatre; looks hard at the brigands; and then inquiringly at Tanner.
THE OFFICER. Who are these men, Senor Ingles?
TANNER. My escort.
Mendoza, with a Mephistophelean smile, bows profoundly. An irrepressible grin runs from face to face among the brigands. They touch their hats, except the Anarchist, who defies the State with folded arms.
The garden of a villa in Granada. Whoever wishes to know what it is like must go to Granada and see. One may prosaically specify a group of hills dotted with villas, the Alhambra on the top of one of the hills, and a considerable town in the valley, approached by dusty white roads in which the children, no matter what they are doing or thinking about, automatically whine for halfpence and reach out little clutching brown palms for them; but there is nothing in this description except the Alhambra, the begging, and the color of the roads, that does not fit Surrey as well as Spain. The difference is that the Surrey hills are comparatively small and ugly, and should properly be called the Surrey Protuberances; but these Spanish hills are of mountain stock: the amenity which conceals their size does not compromise their dignity.
This particular garden is on a hill opposite the Alhambra; and the villa is as expensive and pretentious as a villa must be if it is to be let furnished by the week to opulent American and English visitors. If we stand on the lawn at the foot of the garden and look uphill, our horizon is the stone balustrade of a flagged platform on the edge of infinite space at the top of the hill. Between us and this platform is a flower garden with a circular basin and fountain in the centre, surrounded by geometrical flower beds, gravel paths, and clipped yew trees in the genteelest order. The garden is higher than our lawn; so we reach it by a few steps in the middle of its embankment. The platform is higher again than the garden, from which we mount a couple more steps to look over the balustrade at a fine view of the town up the valley and of the hills that stretch away beyond it to where, in the remotest distance, they become mountains. On our left is the villa, accessible by steps from the left hand corner of the garden. Returning from the platform through the garden and down again to the lawn (a movement which leaves the villa behind us on our right) we find evidence of literary interests on the part of the tenants in the fact that there is no tennis net nor set of croquet hoops, but, on our left, a little iron garden table with books on it, mostly yellow-backed, and a chair beside it. A chair on the right has also a couple of open books upon it. There are no newspapers, a circumstance which, with the absence of games, might lead an intelligent spectator to the most far reaching conclusions as to the sort of people who live in the villa. Such speculations are checked, however, on this delightfully fine afternoon, by the appearance at a little gate in a paling on our left, of Henry Straker in his professional costume. He opens the gate for an elderly gentleman, and follows him on to the lawn.
This elderly gentleman defies the Spanish sun in a black frock coat, tall silk bat, trousers in which narrow stripes of dark grey and lilac blend into a highly respectable color, and a black necktie tied into a bow over spotless linen. Probably therefore a man whose social position needs constant and scrupulous affirmation without regard to climate: one who would dress thus for the middle of the Sahara or the top of Mont Blanc. And since he has not the stamp of the class which accepts as its life-mission the advertizing and maintenance of first rate tailoring and millinery, he looks vulgar in his finery, though in a working dress of any kind he would look dignified enough. He is a bullet cheeked man with a red complexion, stubbly hair, smallish eyes, a hard mouth that folds down at the corners, and a dogged chin. The looseness of skin that comes with age has attacked his throat and the laps of his cheeks; but he is still hard as an apple above the mouth; so that the upper half of his face looks younger than the lower. He has the self-confidence of one who has made money, and something of the truculence of one who has made it in a brutalizing struggle, his civility having under it a perceptible menace that he has other methods in reserve if necessary. Withal, a man to be rather pitied when he is not to be feared; for there is something pathetic about him at times, as if the huge commercial machine which has worked him into his frock coat had allowed him very little of his own way and left his affections hungry and baffled. At the first word that falls from him it is clear that he is an Irishman whose native intonation has clung to him through many changes of place and rank. One can only guess that the original material of his speech was perhaps the surly Kerry brogue; but the degradation of speech that occurs in London, Glasgow, Dublin and big cities generally has been at work on it so long that nobody but an arrant cockney would dream of calling it a brogue now; for its music is almost gone, though its surliness is still perceptible. Straker, as a very obvious cockney, inspires him with implacable contempt, as a stupid Englishman who cannot even speak his own language properly. Straker, on the other hand, regards the old gentleman’s accent as a joke thoughtfully provided by Providence expressly for the amusement of the British race, and treats him normally with the indulgence due to an inferior and unlucky species, but occasionally with indignant alarm when the old gentleman shows signs of intending his Irish nonsense to be taken seriously.
STRAKER. I’ll go tell the young lady. She said you’d prefer to stay here [he turns to go up through the garden to the villa].
MALONE. [who has been looking round him with lively curiosity] The young lady? That’s Miss Violet, eh?
STRAKER. [stopping on the steps with sudden suspicion] Well, you know, don’t you?
MALONE. Do I?
STRAKER. [his temper rising] Well, do you or don’t you?
MALONE. What business is that of yours?
Straker, now highly indignant, comes back from the steps and confronts the visitor.
STRAKER. I’ll tell you what business it is of mine. Miss Robinson—
MALONE. [interrupting] Oh, her name is Robinson, is it? Thank you.
STRAKER. Why, you don’t know even her name?
MALONE. Yes I do, now that you’ve told me.
STRAKER. [after a moment of stupefaction at the old man’s readiness in repartee] Look here: what do you mean by gittin into my car and lettin me bring you here if you’re not the person I took that note to?
MALONE. Who else did you take it to, pray?
STRAKER. I took it to Mr Ector Malone, at Miss Robinson’s request, see? Miss Robinson is not my principal: I took it to oblige her. I know Mr Malone; and he ain’t you, not by a long chalk. At the hotel they told me that your name is Ector Malone.
MALONE. Hector Malone.
STRAKER. [with calm superiority] Hector in your own country: that’s what comes o livin in provincial places like Ireland and America. Over here you’re Ector: if you avn’t noticed it before you soon will.
The growing strain of the conversation is here relieved by Violet, who has sallied from the villa and through the garden to the steps, which she now descends, coming very opportunely between Malone and Straker.
VIOLET. [to Straker] Did you take my message?
STRAKER. Yes, miss. I took it to the hotel and sent it up, expecting to see young Mr Malone. Then out walks this gent, and says it’s all right and he’ll come with me. So as the hotel people said he was Mr Ector Malone, I fetched him. And now he goes back on what he said. But if he isn’t the gentleman you meant, say the word: it’s easy enough to fetch him back again.
MALONE. I should esteem it a great favor if I might have a short conversation with you, madam. I am Hector’s father, as this bright Britisher would have guessed in the course of another hour or so.
STRAKER. [coolly defiant] No, not in another year or so. When we’ve ad you as long to polish up as we’ve ad im, perhaps you’ll begin to look a little bit up to is mark. At present you fall a long way short. You’ve got too many aitches, for one thing. [To Violet, amiably] All right, Miss: you want to talk to him: I shan’t intrude. [He nods affably to Malone and goes out through the little gate in the paling].
VIOLET. [very civilly] I am so sorry, Mr Malone, if that man has been rude to you. But what can we do? He is our chauffeur.
MALONE. Your what?
VIOLET. The driver of our automobile. He can drive a motor car at seventy miles an hour, and mend it when it breaks down. We are dependent on our motor cars; and our motor cars are dependent on him; so of course we are dependent on him.
MALONE. I’ve noticed, madam, that every thousand dollars an Englishman gets seems to add one to the number of people he’s dependent on. However, you needn’t apologize for your man: I made him talk on purpose. By doing so I learnt that you’re staying here in Grannida with a party of English, including my son Hector.
VIOLET. [conversationally] Yes. We intended to go to Nice; but we had to follow a rather eccentric member of our party who started first and came here. Won’t you sit down? [She clears the nearest chair of the two books on it].
MALONE. [impressed by this attention] Thank you. [He sits down, examining her curiously as she goes to the iron table to put down the books. When she turns to him again, he says] Miss Robinson, I believe?
VIOLET. [sitting down] Yes.
MALONE. [Taking a letter from his pocket] Your note to Hector runs as follows [Violet is unable to repress a start. He pauses quietly to take out and put on his spectacles, which have gold rims]: “Dearest: they have all gone to the Alhambra for the afternoon. I have shammed headache and have the garden all to myself. Jump into Jack’s motor: Straker will rattle you here in a jiffy. Quick, quick, quick. Your loving Violet.” [He looks at her; but by this time she has recovered herself, and meets his spectacles with perfect composure. He continues slowly] Now I don’t know on what terms young people associate in English society; but in America that note would be considered to imply a very considerable degree of affectionate intimacy between the parties.
VIOLET. Yes: I know your son very well, Mr Malone. Have you any objection?
MALONE. [somewhat taken aback] No, no objection exactly. Provided it is understood that my son is altogether dependent on me, and that I have to be consulted in any important step he may propose to take.
VIOLET. I am sure you would not be unreasonable with him, Mr Malone.
MALONE. I hope not, Miss Robinson; but at your age you might think many things unreasonable that don’t seem so to me.
VIOLET. [with a little shrug] Oh well, I suppose there’s no use our playing at cross purposes, Mr Malone. Hector wants to marry me.
MALONE. I inferred from your note that he might. Well, Miss Robinson, he is his own master; but if he marries you he shall not have a rap from me. [He takes off his spectacles and pockets them with the note].
VIOLET. [with some severity] That is not very complimentary to me, Mr Malone.
MALONE. I say nothing against you, Miss Robinson: I daresay you are an amiable and excellent young lady. But I have other views for Hector.
VIOLET. Hector may not have other views for himself, Mr Malone.
MALONE. Possibly not. Then he does without me: that’s all. I daresay you are prepared for that. When a young lady writes to a young man to come to her quick, quick, quick, money seems nothing and love seems everything.
VIOLET. [sharply] I beg your pardon, Mr Malone: I do not think anything so foolish. Hector must have money.
MALONE. [staggered] Oh, very well, very well. No doubt he can work for it.
VIOLET. What is the use of having money if you have to work for it? [She rises impatiently]. It’s all nonsense, Mr Malone: you must enable your son to keep up his position. It is his right.
MALONE. [grimly] I should not advise you to marry him on the strength of that right, Miss Robinson.
Violet, who has almost lost her temper, controls herself with an effort; unclenches her fingers; and resumes her seat with studied tranquillity and reasonableness.
VIOLET. What objection have you to me, pray? My social position is as good as Hector’s, to say the least. He admits it.
MALONE. [shrewdly] You tell him so from time to time, eh? Hector’s social position in England, Miss Robinson, is just what I choose to buy for him. I have made him a fair offer. Let him pick out the most historic house, castle or abbey that England contains. The day that he tells me he wants it for a wife worthy of its traditions, I buy it for him, and give him the means of keeping it up.
VIOLET. What do you mean by a wife worthy of its traditions? Cannot any well bred woman keep such a house for him?
MALONE. No: she must be born to it.
VIOLET. Hector was not born to it, was he?
MALONE. His granmother was a barefooted Irish girl that nursed me by a turf fire. Let him marry another such, and I will not stint her marriage portion. Let him raise himself socially with my money or raise somebody else so long as there is a social profit somewhere, I’ll regard my expenditure as justified. But there must be a profit for someone. A marriage with you would leave things just where they are.
VIOLET. Many of my relations would object very much to my marrying the grandson of a common woman, Mr Malone. That may be prejudice; but so is your desire to have him marry a title prejudice.
MALONE. [rising, and approaching her with a scrutiny in which there is a good deal of reluctant respect] You seem a pretty straightforward downright sort of a young woman.
VIOLET. I do not see why I should be made miserably poor because I cannot make profits for you. Why do you want to make Hector unhappy?
MALONE. He will get over it all right enough. Men thrive better on disappointments in love than on disappointments in money. I daresay you think that sordid; but I know what I’m talking about. My father died of starvation in Ireland in the black 47, Maybe you’ve heard of it.
VIOLET. The Famine?
MALONE. [with smouldering passion] No, the starvation. When a country is full of food, and exporting it, there can be no famine. My father was starved dead; and I was starved out to America in my mother’s arms. English rule drove me and mine out of Ireland. Well, you can keep Ireland. I and my like are coming back to buy England; and we’ll buy the best of it. I want no middle class properties and no middle class women for Hector. That’s straightforward isn’t it, like yourself?
VIOLET. [icily pitying his sentimentality] Really, Mr Malone, I am astonished to hear a man of your age and good sense talking in that romantic way. Do you suppose English noblemen will sell their places to you for the asking?
MALONE. I have the refusal of two of the oldest family mansions in England. One historic owner can’t afford to keep all the rooms dusted: the other can’t afford the death duties. What do you say now?
VIOLET. Of course it is very scandalous; but surely you know that the Government will sooner or later put a stop to all these Socialistic attacks on property.
MALONE. [grinning] D’y’ think they’ll be able to get that done before I buy the house—or rather the abbey? They’re both abbeys.
VIOLET. [putting that aside rather impatiently] Oh, well, let us talk sense, Mr Malone. You must feel that we haven’t been talking sense so far.
MALONE. I can’t say I do. I mean all I say.
VIOLET. Then you don’t know Hector as I do. He is romantic and faddy—he gets it from you, I fancy—and he wants a certain sort of wife to take care of him. Not a faddy sort of person, you know.
MALONE. Somebody like you, perhaps?
VIOLET. [quietly] Well, yes. But you cannot very well ask me to undertake this with absolutely no means of keeping up his position.
MALONE. [alarmed] Stop a bit, stop a bit. Where are we getting to? I’m not aware that I’m asking you to undertake anything.
VIOLET. Of course, Mr Malone, you can make it very difficult for me to speak to you if you choose to misunderstand me.
MALONE. [half bewildered] I don’t wish to take any unfair advantage; but we seem to have got off the straight track somehow.
Straker, with the air of a man who has been making haste, opens the little gate, and admits Hector, who, snorting with indignation, comes upon the lawn, and is making for his father when Violet, greatly dismayed, springs up and intercepts him. Straker doer not wait; at least he does not remain visibly within earshot.
VIOLET. Oh, how unlucky! Now please, Hector, say nothing. Go away until I have finished speaking to your father.
HECTOR. [inexorably] No, Violet: I mean to have this thing out, right away. [He puts her aside; passes her by; and faces his father, whose cheeks darken as his Irish blood begins to simmer]. Dad: you’ve not played this hand straight.
MALONE. Hwat d’y’mean?
HECTOR. You’ve opened a letter addressed to me. You’ve impersonated me and stolen a march on this lady. That’s dishonorable.
MALONE. [threateningly] Now you take care what you’re saying, Hector. Take care, I tell you.
HECTOR. I have taken care. I am taking care. I’m taking care of my honor and my position in English society.
MALONE. [hotly] Your position has been got by my money: do you know that?
HECTOR. Well, you’ve just spoiled it all by opening that letter. A letter from an English lady, not addressed to you—a confidential letter! a delicate letter! a private letter opened by my father! That’s a sort of thing a man can’t struggle against in England. The sooner we go back together the better. [He appeals mutely to the heavens to witness the shame and anguish of two outcasts].
VIOLET. [snubbing him with an instinctive dislike for scene making] Don’t be unreasonable, Hector. It was quite natural of Mr Malone to open my letter: his name was on the envelope.
MALONE. There! You’ve no common sense, Hector. I thank you, Miss Robinson.
HECTOR. I thank you, too. It’s very kind of you. My father knows no better.
MALONE. [furiously clenching his fists] Hector—
HECTOR. [with undaunted moral force] Oh, it’s no use hectoring me. A private letter’s a private letter, dad: you can’t get over that.
MALONE [raising his voice] I won’t be talked back to by you, d’y’ hear?
VIOLET. Ssh! please, please. Here they all come.
Father and son, checked, glare mutely at one another as Tanner comes in through the little gate with Ramsden, followed by Octavius and Ann.
VIOLET. Back already!
TANNER. The Alhambra is not open this afternoon.
VIOLET. What a sell!
Tanner passes on, and presently finds himself between Hector and a strange elder, both apparently on the verge of personal combat. He looks from one to the other for an explanation. They sulkily avoid his eye, and nurse their wrath in silence.
RAMSDEN. Is it wise for you to be out in the sunshine with such a headache, Violet?
TANNER. Have you recovered too, Malone?
VIOLET. Oh, I forgot. We have not all met before. Mr Malone: won’t you introduce your father?
HECTOR. [with Roman firmness] No, I will not. He is no father of mine.
MALONE. [very angry] You disown your dad before your English friends, do you?
VIOLET. Oh please don’t make a scene.
Ann and Octavius, lingering near the gate, exchange an astonished glance, and discreetly withdraw up the steps to the garden, where they can enjoy the disturbance without intruding. On their way to the steps Ann sends a little grimace of mute sympathy to Violet, who is standing with her back to the little table, looking on in helpless annoyance as her husband soars to higher and higher moral eminences without the least regard to the old man’s millions.
HECTOR. I’m very sorry, Miss Robinson; but I’m contending for a principle. I am a son, and, I hope, a dutiful one; but before everything I’m a Man!!! And when dad treats my private letters as his own, and takes it on himself to say that I shan’t marry you if I am happy and fortunate enough to gain your consent, then I just snap my fingers and go my own way.
TANNER. Marry Violet!
RAMSDEN. Are you in your senses?
TANNER. Do you forget what we told you?
HECTOR. [recklessly] I don’t care what you told me.
RAMSDEN. [scandalized] Tut tut, sir! Monstrous! [he flings away towards the gate, his elbows quivering with indignation]
TANNER. Another madman! These men in love should be locked up. [He gives Hector up as hopeless, and turns away towards the garden, but Malone, taking offence in a new direction, follows him and compels him, by the aggressivenes of his tone, to stop].
MALONE. I don’t understand this. Is Hector not good enough for this lady, pray?
TANNER. My dear sir, the lady is married already. Hector knows it; and yet he persists in his infatuation. Take him home and lock him up.
MALONE. [bitterly] So this is the high-born social tone I’ve spoilt by my ignorant, uncultivated behavior! Makin love to a married woman! [He comes angrily between Hector and Violet, and almost bawls into Hector’s left ear] You’ve picked up that habit of the British aristocracy, have you?
HECTOR. That’s all right. Don’t you trouble yourself about that. I’ll answer for the morality of what I’m doing.
TANNER. [coming forward to Hector’s right hand with flashing eyes] Well said, Malone! You also see that mere marriage laws are not morality! I agree with you; but unfortunately Violet does not.
MALONE. I take leave to doubt that, sir. [Turning on Violet] Let me tell you, Mrs Robinson, or whatever your right name is, you had no right to send that letter to my son when you were the wife of another man.
HECTOR. [outraged] This is the last straw. Dad: you have insulted my wife.
MALONE. YOUR wife!
TANNER. YOU the missing husband! Another moral impostor! [He smites his brow, and collapses into Malone’s chair].
MALONE. You’ve married without my consent!
RAMSDEN. You have deliberately humbugged us, sir!
HECTOR. Here: I have had just about enough of being badgered. Violet and I are married: that’s the long and the short of it. Now what have you got to say—any of you?
MALONE. I know what I’ve got to say. She’s married a beggar.
HECTOR. No; she’s married a Worker [his American pronunciation imparts an overwhelming intensity to this simple and unpopular word]. I start to earn my own living this very afternoon.
MALONE. [sneering angrily] Yes: you’re very plucky now, because you got your remittance from me yesterday or this morning, I reckon. Wait til it’s spent. You won’t be so full of cheek then.
HECTOR. [producing a letter from his pocketbook] Here it is [thrusting it on his father]. Now you just take your remittance and yourself out of my life. I’m done with remittances; and I’m done with you. I don’t sell the privilege of insulting my wife for a thousand dollars.
MALONE. [deeply wounded and full of concern] Hector: you don’t know what poverty is.
HECTOR. [fervidly] Well, I want to know what it is. I want’be a Man. Violet: you come along with me, to your own home: I’ll see you through.
OCTAVIUS. [jumping down from the garden to the lawn and running to Hector’s left hand] I hope you’ll shake hands with me before you go, Hector. I admire and respect you more than I can say. [He is affected almost to tears as they shake hands].
VIOLET. [also almost in tears, but of vexation] Oh don’t be an idiot, Tavy. Hector’s about as fit to become a workman as you are.
TANNER. [rising from his chair on the other ride of Hector] Never fear: there’s no question of his becoming a navvy, Mrs Malone. [To Hector] There’s really no difficulty about capital to start with. Treat me as a friend: draw on me.
OCTAVIUS. [impulsively] Or on me.
MALONE. [with fierce jealousy] Who wants your dirty money? Who should he draw on but his own father? [Tanner and Octavius recoil, Octavius rather hurt, Tanner consoled by the solution of the money difficulty. Violet looks up hopefully]. Hector: don’t be rash, my boy. I’m sorry for what I said: I never meant to insult Violet: I take it all back. She’s just the wife you want: there!
HECTOR. [Patting him on the shoulder] Well, that’s all right, dad. Say no more: we’re friends again. Only, I take no money from anybody.
MALONE. [pleading abjectly] Don’t be hard on me, Hector. I’d rather you quarrelled and took the money than made friends and starved. You don’t know what the world is: I do.
HECTOR. No, no, NO. That’s fixed: that’s not going to change. [He passes his father inexorably by, and goes to Violet]. Come, Mrs Malone: you’ve got to move to the hotel with me, and take your proper place before the world.
VIOLET. But I must go in, dear, and tell Davis to pack. Won’t you go on and make them give you a room overlooking the garden for me? I’ll join you in half an hour.
HECTOR. Very well. You’ll dine with us, Dad, won’t you?
MALONE. [eager to conciliate him] Yes, yes.
HECTOR. See you all later. [He waves his hand to Ann, who has now been joined by Tanner, Octavius, and Ramsden in the garden, and goes out through the little gate, leaving his father and Violet together on the lawn].
MALONE. You’ll try to bring him to his senses, Violet: I know you will.
VIOLET. I had no idea he could be so headstrong. If he goes on like that, what can I do?
MALONE. Don’t be discurridged: domestic pressure may be slow; but it’s sure. You’ll wear him down. Promise me you will.
VIOLET. I will do my best. Of course I think it’s the greatest nonsense deliberately making us poor like that.
MALONE. Of course it is.
VIOLET. [after a moment’s reflection] You had better give me the remittance. He will want it for his hotel bill. I’ll see whether I can induce him to accept it. Not now, of course, but presently.
MALONE. [eagerly] Yes, yes, yes: that’s just the thing [he hands her the thousand dollar bill, and adds cunningly] Y’understand that this is only a bachelor allowance.
VIOLET. [Coolly] Oh, quite. [She takes it]. Thank you. By the way, Mr Malone, those two houses you mentioned—the abbeys.
VIOLET. Don’t take one of them until I’ve seen it. One never knows what may be wrong with these places.
MALONE. I won’t. I’ll do nothing without consulting you, never fear.
VIOLET. [politely, but without a ray of gratitude] Thanks: that will be much the best way. [She goes calmly back to the villa, escorted obsequiously by Malone to the upper end of the garden].
TANNER. [drawing Ramsden’s attention to Malone’s cringing attitude as he takes leave of Violet] And that poor devil is a billionaire! one of the master spirits of the age! Led on a string like a pug dog by the first girl who takes the trouble to despise him. I wonder will it ever come to that with me. [He comes down to the lawn.]
RAMSDEN. [following him] The sooner the better for you.
MALONE. [clapping his hands as he returns through the garden] That’ll be a grand woman for Hector. I wouldn’t exchange her for ten duchesses. [He descends to the lawn and comes between Tanner and Ramsden].
RAMSDEN. [very civil to the billionaire] It’s an unexpected pleasure to find you in this corner of the world, Mr Malone. Have you come to buy up the Alhambra?
MALONE. Well, I don’t say I mightn’t. I think I could do better with it than the Spanish government. But that’s not what I came about. To tell you the truth, about a month ago I overheard a deal between two men over a bundle of shares. They differed about the price: they were young and greedy, and didn’t know that if the shares were worth what was bid for them they must be worth what was asked, the margin being too small to be of any account, you see. To amuse meself, I cut in and bought the shares. Well, to this day I haven’t found out what the business is. The office is in this town; and the name is Mendoza, Limited. Now whether Mendoza’s a mine, or a steamboat line, or a bank, or a patent article—
TANNER. He’s a man. I know him: his principles are thoroughly commercial. Let us take you round the town in our motor, Mr Malone, and call on him on the way.
MALONE. If you’ll be so kind, yes. And may I ask who—
TANNER. Mr Roebuck Ramsden, a very old friend of your daughter-in-law.
MALONE. Happy to meet you, Mr Ramsden.
RAMSDEN. Thank you. Mr Tanner is also one of our circle.
MALONE. Glad to know you also, Mr Tanner.
TANNER. Thanks. [Malone and Ramsden go out very amicably through the little gate. Tanner calls to Octavius, who is wandering in the garden with Ann] Tavy! [Tavy comes to the steps, Tanner whispers loudly to him] Violet has married a financier of brigands. [Tanner hurries away to overtake Malone and Ramsden. Ann strolls to the steps with an idle impulse to torment Octavius].
ANN. Won’t you go with them, Tavy?
OCTAVIUS. [tears suddenly flushing his eyes] You cut me to the heart, Ann, by wanting me to go [he comes down on the lawn to hide his face from her. She follows him caressingly].
ANN. Poor Ricky Ticky Tavy! Poor heart!
OCTAVIUS. It belongs to you, Ann. Forgive me: I must speak of it. I love you. You know I love you.
ANN. What’s the good, Tavy? You know that my mother is determined that I shall marry Jack.
OCTAVIUS. [amazed] Jack!
ANN. It seems absurd, doesn’t it?
OCTAVIUS. [with growing resentment] Do you mean to say that Jack has been playing with me all this time? That he has been urging me not to marry you because he intends to marry you himself?
ANN. [alarmed] No no: you mustn’t lead him to believe that I said that: I don’t for a moment think that Jack knows his own mind. But it’s clear from my father’s will that he wished me to marry Jack. And my mother is set on it.
OCTAVIUS. But you are not bound to sacrifice yourself always to the wishes of your parents.
ANN. My father loved me. My mother loves me. Surely their wishes are a better guide than my own selfishness.
OCTAVIUS. Oh, I know how unselfish you are, Ann. But believe me—though I know I am speaking in my own interest—there is another side to this question. Is it fair to Jack to marry him if you do not love him? Is it fair to destroy my happiness as well as your own if you can bring yourself to love me?
ANN. [looking at him with a faint impulse of pity] Tavy, my dear, you are a nice creature—a good boy.
OCTAVIUS. [humiliated] Is that all?
ANN. [mischievously in spite of her pity] That’s a great deal, I assure you. You would always worship the ground I trod on, wouldn’t you?
OCTAVIUS. I do. It sounds ridiculous; but it’s no exaggeration. I do; and I always shall.
ANN. Always is a long word, Tavy. You see, I shall have to live up always to your idea of my divinity; and I don’t think I could do that if we were married. But if I marry Jack, you’ll never be disillusioned—at least not until I grow too old.
OCTAVIUS. I too shall grow old, Ann. And when I am eighty, one white hair of the woman I love will make me tremble more than the thickest gold tress from the most beautiful young head.
ANN. [quite touched] Oh, that’s poetry, Tavy, real poetry. It gives me that strange sudden sense of an echo from a former existence which always seems to me such a striking proof that we have immortal souls.
OCTAVIUS. Do you believe that is true?
ANN. Tavy, if it is to become true you must lose me as well as love me.
OCTAVIUS. Oh! [he hastily sits down at the little table and covers his face with his hands].
ANN. [with conviction] Tavy: I wouldn’t for worlds destroy your illusions. I can neither take you nor let you go. I can see exactly what will suit you. You must be a sentimental old bachelor for my sake.
OCTAVIUS. [desperately] Ann: I’ll kill myself.
ANN. Oh no you won’t: that wouldn’t be kind. You won’t have a bad time. You will be very nice to women; and you will go a good deal to the opera. A broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for a man in London if he has a comfortable income.
OCTAVIUS. [considerably cooled, but believing that he is only recovering his self-control] I know you mean to be kind, Ann. Jack has persuaded you that cynicism is a good tonic for me. [He rises with quiet dignity].
ANN. [studying him slyly] You see, I’m disillusionizing you already. That’s what I dread.
OCTAVIUS. You do not dread disillusionizing Jack.
ANN. [her face lighting up with mischievous ecstasy—whispering] I can’t: he has no illusions about me. I shall surprise Jack the other way. Getting over an unfavorable impression is ever so much easier than living up to an ideal. Oh, I shall enrapture Jack sometimes!
OCTAVIUS. [resuming the calm phase of despair, and beginning to enjoy his broken heart and delicate attitude without knowing it] I don’t doubt that. You will enrapture him always. And he—the fool!—thinks you would make him wretched.
ANN. Yes: that’s the difficulty, so far.
OCTAVIUS. [heroically] Shall I tell him that you love him?
ANN. [quickly] Oh no: he’d run away again.
OCTAVIUS. [shocked] Ann: would you marry an unwilling man?
ANN. What a queer creature you are, Tavy! There’s no such thing as a willing man when you really go for him. [She laughs naughtily]. I’m shocking you, I suppose. But you know you are really getting a sort of satisfaction already in being out of danger yourself.
OCTAVIUS [startled] Satisfaction! [Reproachfully] You say that to me!
ANN. Well, if it were really agony, would you ask for more of it?
OCTAVIUS. Have I asked for more of it?
ANN. You have offered to tell Jack that I love him. That’s self-sacrifice, I suppose; but there must be some satisfaction in it. Perhaps it’s because you’re a poet. You are like the bird that presses its breast against the sharp thorn to make itself sing.
OCTAVIUS. It’s quite simple. I love you; and I want you to be happy. You don’t love me; so I can’t make you happy myself; but I can help another man to do it.
ANN. Yes: it seems quite simple. But I doubt if we ever know why we do things. The only really simple thing is to go straight for what you want and grab it. I suppose I don’t love you, Tavy; but sometimes I feel as if I should like to make a man of you somehow. You are very foolish about women.
OCTAVIUS. [almost coldly] I am content to be what I am in that respect.
ANN. Then you must keep away from them, and only dream about them. I wouldn’t marry you for worlds, Tavy.
OCTAVIUS. I have no hope, Ann: I accept my ill luck. But I don’t think you quite know how much it hurts.
ANN. You are so softhearted! It’s queer that you should be so different from Violet. Violet’s as hard as nails.
OCTAVIUS. Oh no. I am sure Violet is thoroughly womanly at heart.
ANN. [with some impatience] Why do you say that? Is it unwomanly to be thoughtful and businesslike and sensible? Do you want Violet to be an idiot—or something worse, like me?
OCTAVIUS. Something worse—like you! What do you mean, Ann?
ANN. Oh well, I don’t mean that, of course. But I have a great respect for Violet. She gets her own way always.
OCTAVIUS. [sighing] So do you.
ANN. Yes; but somehow she gets it without coaxing—without having to make people sentimental about her.
OCTAVIUS. [with brotherly callousness] Nobody could get very sentimental about Violet, I think, pretty as she is.
ANN. Oh yes they could, if she made them.
OCTAVIUS. But surely no really nice woman would deliberately practise on men’s instincts in that way.
ANN. [throwing up her hands] Oh Tavy, Tavy, Ricky Ticky Tavy, heaven help the woman who marries you!
OCTAVIUS. [his passion reviving at the name] Oh why, why, why do you say that? Don’t torment me. I don’t understand.
ANN. Suppose she were to tell fibs, and lay snares for men?
OCTAVIUS. Do you think I could marry such a woman—I, who have known and loved you?
ANN. Hm! Well, at all events, she wouldn’t let you if she were wise. So that’s settled. And now I can’t talk any more. Say you forgive me, and that the subject is closed.
OCTAVIUS. I have nothing to forgive; and the subject is closed. And if the wound is open, at least you shall never see it bleed.
ANN. Poetic to the last, Tavy. Goodbye, dear. [She pats his check; has an impulse to kiss him and then another impulse of distaste which prevents her; finally runs away through the garden and into the villa].
Octavius again takes refuge at the table, bowing his head on his arms and sobbing softly. Mrs Whitefield, who has been pottering round the Granada shops, and has a net full of little parcels in her hand, comes in through the gate and sees him.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [running to him and lifting his head] What’s the matter, Tavy? Are you ill?
OCTAVIUS. No, nothing, nothing.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [still holding his head, anxiously] But you’re crying. Is it about Violet’s marriage?
OCTAVIUS. No, no. Who told you about Violet?
MRS WHITEFIELD. [restoring the head to its owner] I met Roebuck and that awful old Irishman. Are you sure you’re not ill? What’s the matter?
OCTAVIUS. [affectionately] It’s nothing—only a man’s broken heart. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?
MRS WHITEFIELD. But what is it all about? Has Ann been doing anything to you?
OCTAVIUS. It’s not Ann’s fault. And don’t think for a moment that I blame you.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [startled] For what?
OCTAVIUS. [pressing her hand consolingly] For nothing. I said I didn’t blame you.
MRS WHITEFIELD. But I haven’t done anything. What’s the matter?
OCTAVIUS. [smiling sadly] Can’t you guess? I daresay you are right to prefer Jack to me as a husband for Ann; but I love Ann; and it hurts rather. [He rises and moves away from her towards the middle of the lawn].
MRS WHITEFIELD. [following him hastily] Does Ann say that I want her to marry Jack?
OCTAVIUS. Yes: she has told me.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [thoughtfully] Then I’m very sorry for you, Tavy. It’s only her way of saying SHE wants to marry Jack. Little she cares what I say or what I want!
OCTAVIUS. But she would not say it unless she believed it. Surely you don’t suspect Ann of—of DECEIT!!
MRS WHITEFIELD. Well, never mind, Tavy. I don’t know which is best for a young man: to know too little, like you, or too much, like Jack.
TANNER. Well, I’ve disposed of old Malone. I’ve introduced him to Mendoza, Limited; and left the two brigands together to talk it out. Hullo, Tavy! anything wrong?
OCTAVIUS. I must go wash my face, I see. [To Mrs Whitefield] Tell him what you wish. [To Tanner] You may take it from me, Jack, that Ann approves of it.
TANNER. [puzzled by his manner] Approves of what?
OCTAVIUS. Of what Mrs Whitefield wishes. [He goes his way with sad dignity to the villa].
TANNER. [to Mrs Whitefield] This is very mysterious. What is it you wish? It shall be done, whatever it is.
MRS WHITEFIELD. [with snivelling gratitude] Thank you, Jack. [She sits down. Tanner brings the other chair from the table and sits close to her with his elbows on his knees, giving her his whole attention]. I don’t know why it is that other people’s children are so nice to me, and that my own have so little consideration for me. It’s no wonder I don’t seem able to care for Ann and Rhoda as I do for you and Tavy and Violet. It’s a very queer world. It used to be so straightforward and simple; and now nobody seems to think and feel as they ought. Nothing has been right since that speech that Professor Tyndall made at Belfast.
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 Whitefield 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.
ANN. Violet is quite right. You ought to get married.
TANNER. [explosively] Ann: I will not marry you. Do you hear? I won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, WON’T marry you.
ANN. [placidly] Well, nobody axd you, sir she said, sir she said, sir she said. So that’s settled.
TANNER. Yes, nobody has asked me; but everybody treats the thing as settled. It’s in the air. When we meet, the others go away on absurd pretexts to leave us alone together. Ramsden no longer scowls at me: his eye beams, as if he were already giving you away to me in church. Tavy refers me to your mother and gives me his blessing. Straker openly treats you as his future employer: it was he who first told me of it.
ANN. Was that why you ran away?
TANNER. Yes, only to be stopped by a lovesick brigand and run down like a truant schoolboy.
ANN. Well, if you don’t want to be married, you needn’t be [she turns away from him and sits down, much at her ease].
TANNER. [following her] Does any man want to be hanged? Yet men let themselves be hanged without a struggle for life, though they could at least give the chaplain a black eye. We do the world’s will, not our own. I have a frightful feeling that I shall let myself be married because it is the world’s will that you should have a husband.
ANN. I daresay I shall, someday.
TANNER. But why me—me of all men? Marriage is to me apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat. I shall decay like a thing that has served its purpose and is done with; I shall change from a man with a future to a man with a past; I shall see in the greasy eyes of all the other husbands their relief at the arrival of a new prisoner to share their ignominy. The young men will scorn me as one who has sold out: to the young women I, who have always been an enigma and a possibility, shall be merely somebody else’s property—and damaged goods at that: a secondhand man at best.
ANN. Well, your wife can put on a cap and make herself ugly to keep you in countenance, like my grandmother.
TANNER. So that she may make her triumph more insolent by publicly throwing away the bait the moment the trap snaps on the victim!
ANN. After all, though, what difference would it make? Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days? I thought our pictures very lovely when papa bought them; but I haven’t looked at them for years. You never bother about my looks: you are too well used to me. I might be the umbrella stand.
TANNER. You lie, you vampire: you lie.
ANN. Flatterer. Why are you trying to fascinate me, Jack, if you don’t want to marry me?
TANNER. The Life Force. I am in the grip of the Life Force.
ANN. I don’t understand in the least: it sounds like the Life Guards.
TANNER. Why don’t you marry Tavy? He is willing. Can you not be satisfied unless your prey struggles?
ANN. [turning to him as if to let him into a secret] Tavy will never marry. Haven’t you noticed that that sort of man never marries?
TANNER. What! a man who idolizes women! who sees nothing in nature but romantic scenery for love duets! Tavy, the chivalrous, the faithful, the tenderhearted and true! Tavy never marry! Why, he was born to be swept up by the first pair of blue eyes he meets in the street.
ANN. Yes, I know. All the same, Jack, men like that always live in comfortable bachelor lodgings with broken hearts, and are adored by their landladies, and never get married. Men like you always get married.
TANNER. [Smiting his brow] How frightfully, horribly true! It has been staring me in the face all my life; and I never saw it before.
ANN. Oh, it’s the same with women. The poetic temperament’s a very nice temperament, very amiable, very harmless and poetic, I daresay; but it’s an old maid’s temperament.
TANNER. Barren. The Life Force passes it by.
ANN. If that’s what you mean by the Life Force, yes.
TANNER. You don’t care for Tavy?
ANN. [looking round carefully to make sure that Tavy is not within earshot] No.
TANNER. And you do care for me?
ANN. [rising quietly and shaking her finger at him] Now Jack! Behave yourself.
TANNER. Infamous, abandoned woman! Devil!
ANN. Boa-constrictor! Elephant!
ANN. [Softly] I must be, for my future husband’s sake.
TANNER. For mine! [Correcting himself savagely] I mean for his.
ANN.[ignoring the correction] Yes, for yours. You had better marry what you call a hypocrite, Jack. Women who are not hypocrites go about in rational dress and are insulted and get into all sorts of hot water. And then their husbands get dragged in too, and live in continual dread of fresh complications. Wouldn’t you prefer a wife you could depend on?
TANNER. No, a thousand times no: hot water is the revolutionist’s element. You clean men as you clean milkpails, by scalding them.
ANN. Cold water has its uses too. It’s healthy.
TANNER. [despairingly] Oh, you are witty: at the supreme moment the Life Force endows you with every quality. Well, I too can be a hypocrite. Your father’s will appointed me your guardian, not your suitor. I shall be faithful to my trust.
ANN. [in low siren tones] He asked me who would I have as my guardian before he made that will. I chose you!
TANNER. The will is yours then! The trap was laid from the beginning.
ANN. [concentrating all her magic] From the beginning—from our childhood—for both of us—by the Life Force.
TANNER. I will not marry you. I will not marry you.
ANN. Oh, you will, you will.
TANNER. I tell you, no, no, no.
ANN. I tell you, yes, yes, yes.
ANN. [coaxing—imploring—almost exhausted] Yes. Before it is too late for repentance. Yes.
TANNER. [struck by the echo from the past] When did all this happen to me before? Are we two dreaming?
ANN. [suddenly losing her courage, with an anguish that she does not conceal] No. We are awake; and you have said no: that is all.
TANNER. [brutally] Well?
ANN. Well, I made a mistake: you do not love me.
TANNER. [seizing her in his arms] It is false: I love you. The Life Force enchants me: I have the whole world in my arms when I clasp you. But I am fighting for my freedom, for my honor, for myself, one and indivisible.
ANN. Your happiness will be worth them all.
TANNER. You would sell freedom and honor and self for happiness?
ANN. It will not be all happiness for me. Perhaps death.
TANNER. [groaning] Oh, that clutch holds and hurts. What have you grasped in me? Is there a father’s heart as well as a mother’s?
ANN. Take care, Jack: if anyone comes while we are like this, you will have to marry me.
TANNER. If we two stood now on the edge of a precipice, I would hold you tight and jump.
ANN. [panting, failing more and more under the strain] Jack: let me go. I have dared so frightfully—it is lasting longer than I thought. Let me go: I can’t bear it.
TANNER. Nor I. Let it kill us.
ANN. Yes: I don’t care. I am at the end of my forces. I don’t care. I think I am going to faint.
At this moment Violet and Octavius come from the villa with Mrs Whitefield, who is wrapped up for driving. Simultaneously Malone and Ramsden, followed by Mendoza and Straker, come in through the little gate in the paling. Tanner shamefacedly releases Ann, who raises her hand giddily to her forehead.
MALONE. Take care. Something’s the matter with the lady.
RAMSDEN. What does this mean?
VIOLET. [running between Ann and Tanner] Are you ill?
ANN. [reeling, with a supreme effort] I have promised to marry Jack. [She swoons. Violet kneels by her and chafes her hand. Tanner runs round to her other hand, and tries to lift her bead. Octavius goes to Violet’s assistance, but does not know what to do. Mrs Whitefield hurries back into the villa. Octavius, Malone and Ramsden run to Ann and crowd round her, stooping to assist. Straker coolly comes to Ann’s feet, and Mendoza to her head, both upright and self-possessed].
STRAKER. Now then, ladies and gentlemen: she don’t want a crowd round her: she wants air—all the air she can git. If you please, gents— [Malone and Ramsden allow him to drive them gently past Ann and up the lawn towards the garden, where Octavius, who has already become conscious of his uselessness, joins them. Straker, following them up, pauses for a moment to instruct Tanner]. Don’t lift er ed, Mr Tanner: let it go flat so’s the blood can run back into it.
MENDOZA. He is right, Mr Tanner. Trust to the air of the Sierra. [He withdraws delicately to the garden steps].
TANNER. [rising] I yield to your superior knowledge of physiology, Henry. [He withdraws to the corner of the lawn; and Octavius immediately hurries down to him].
TAVY. [aside to Tanner, grasping his hand] Jack: be very happy.
TANNER. [aside to Tavy] I never asked her. It is a trap for me. [He goes up the lawn towards the garden. Octavius remains petrified].
MENDOZA. [intercepting Mrs Whitefield, who comes from the villa with a glass of brandy] What is this, madam [he takes it from her]?
MRS WHITEFIELD. A little brandy.
MENDOZA. The worst thing you could give her. Allow me. [He swallows it]. Trust to the air of the Sierra, madam.
For a moment the men all forget Ann and stare at Mendoza.
ANN. [in Violet’s ear, clutching her round the neck] Violet, did Jack say anything when I fainted?
ANN. Ah! [with a sigh of intense relief she relapses].
MRS WHITEFIELD. Oh, she’s fainted again.
They are about to rush back to her; but Mendoza stops them with a warning gesture.
ANN. [supine] No I haven’t. I’m quite happy.
TANNER. [suddenly walking determinedly to her, and snatching her hand from Violet to feel her pulse] Why, her pulse is positively bounding. Come, get up. What nonsense! Up with you. [He gets her up summarily].
ANN. Yes: I feel strong enough now. But you very nearly killed me, Jack, for all that.
MALONE. A rough wooer, eh? They’re the best sort, Miss Whitefield. I congratulate Mr Tanner; and I hope to meet you and him as frequent guests at the Abbey.
ANN. Thank you. [She goes past Malone to Octavius] Ricky Ticky Tavy: congratulate me. [Aside to him] I want to make you cry for the last time.
TAVY. [steadfastly] No more tears. I am happy in your happiness. And I believe in you in spite of everything.
RAMSDEN. [coming between Malone and Tanner] You are a happy man, Jack Tanner. I envy you.
MENDOZA. [advancing between Violet and Tanner] Sir: there are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it. Mine and yours, sir.
TANNER. Mr Mendoza: I have no heart’s desires. Ramsden: it is very easy for you to call me a happy man: you are only a spectator. I am one of the principals; and I know better. Ann: stop tempting Tavy, and come back to me.
ANN. [complying] You are absurd, Jack. [She takes his proffered arm].
TANNER. [continuing] I solemnly say that I am not a happy man. Ann looks happy; but she is only triumphant, successful, victorious. That is not happiness, but the price for which the strong sell their happiness. What we have both done this afternoon is to renounce tranquillity, above all renounce the romantic possibilities of an unknown future, for the cares of a household and a family. I beg that no man may seize the occasion to get half drunk and utter imbecile speeches and coarse pleasantries at my expense. We propose to furnish our own house according to our own taste; and I hereby give notice that the seven or eight travelling clocks, the four or five dressing cases, the salad bowls, the carvers and fish slices, the copy of Tennyson in extra morocco, and all the other articles you are preparing to heap upon us, will be instantly sold, and the proceeds devoted to circulating free copies of the Revolutionist’s Handbook. The wedding will take place three days after our return to England, by special license, at the office of the district superintendent registrar, in the presence of my solicitor and his clerk, who, like his clients, will be in ordinary walking dress.
VIOLET. [with intense conviction] You are a brute, Jack.
ANN. [looking at him with fond pride and caressing his arm] Never mind her, dear. Go on talking.