Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Scene I

The curtain falls.

A prison. A plainly furnished room, with two large barred windows, overlooking the prisoners' exercise yard, where men, in yellow clothes marked with arrows, and yellow brimless caps, are seen in single file at a distance of four yards from each other, walking rapidly on serpentine white lines marked on the concrete floor of the yard. Two warders in blue uniforms, with peaked caps and swords, are stationed amongst them. The room has distempered walls, a bookcase with numerous official-looking books, a cupboard between the windows, a plan of the prison on the wall, a writing-table covered with documents. It is Christmas Eve.

The GOVERNOR, a neat, grave-looking man, with a trim, fair moustache, the eyes of a theorist, and grizzled hair, receding from the temples, is standing close to this writing-table looking at a sort of rough saw made out of a piece of metal. The hand in which he holds it is gloved, for two fingers are missing. The chief warder, WOODER, a tall, thin, military- looking man of sixty, with grey moustache and melancholy, monkey-like eyes, stands very upright two paces from him.

THE GOVERNOR [With a faint, abstracted smile] Queer-looking affair, Mr. Wooder! Where did you find it?

WOODER In his mattress, sir. Haven't come across such a thing for two years now.

THE GOVERNOR [With curiosity] Had he any set plan?

WOODER He'd sawed his window-bar about that much. [He holds up his thumb and finger a quarter of an inch apart]

THE GOVERNOR I'll see him this afternoon. What's his name? Moaney! An old hand, I think?

WOODER Yes, sir-fourth spell of penal. You'd think an old lag like him would have had more sense by now. [With pitying contempt] Occupied his mind, he said. Breaking in and breaking out--that's all they think about.

THE GOVERNOR Who's next him?

WOODER O'Cleary, sir.

THE GOVERNOR The Irishman.

WOODER Next him again there's that young fellow, Falder--star class--and next him old Clipton.

THE GOVERNOR Ah, yes! "The philosopher." I want to see him about his eyes.

WOODER Curious thing, sir: they seem to know when there's one of these tries at escape going on. It makes them restive--there's a regular wave going through them just now.

THE GOVERNOR [Meditatively] Odd things--those waves. [Turning to look at the prisoners exercising] Seem quiet enough out here!

WOODER That Irishman, O'Cleary, began banging on his door this morning. Little thing like that's quite enough to upset the whole lot. They're just like dumb animals at times.

THE GOVERNOR I've seen it with horses before thunder--it'll run right through cavalry lines.

The prison CHAPLAIN has entered. He is a dark-haired, ascetic man, in clerical undress, with a peculiarly steady, tight-lipped face and slow, cultured speech.

THE GOVERNOR [Holding up the saw] Seen this, Miller?

THE CHAPLAIN Useful-looking specimen.

THE GOVERNOR Do for the Museum, eh! [He goes to the cupboard and opens it, displaying to view a number of quaint ropes, hooks, and metal tools with labels tied on them] That'll do, thanks, Mr. Wooder.

WOODER [Saluting] Thank you, sir. [He goes out]

THE GOVERNOR Account for the state of the men last day or two, Miller? Seems going through the whole place.

THE CHAPLAIN No. I don't know of anything.

THE GOVERNOR By the way, will you dine with us on Christmas Day?

THE CHAPLAIN To-morrow. Thanks very much.

THE GOVERNOR Worries me to feel the men discontented. [Gazing at the saw] Have to punish this poor devil. Can't help liking a man who tries to escape. [He places the saw in his pocket and locks the cupboard again]

THE CHAPLAIN Extraordinary perverted will-power--some of them. Nothing to be done till it's broken.

THE GOVERNOR And not much afterwards, I'm afraid. Ground too hard for golf?

WOODER comes in again.

WOODER Visitor who's been seeing Q 3007 asks to speak to you, sir. I told him it wasn't usual.

THE GOVERNOR What about?

WOODER Shall I put him off, sir?

THE GOVERNOR [Resignedly] No, no. Let's see him. Don't go, Miller.

WOODER motions to some one without, and as the visitor comes in withdraws.

The visitor is COKESON, who is attired in a thick overcoat to the knees, woollen gloves, arid carries a top hat.

COKESON I'm sorry to trouble you. I've been talking to the young man.

THE GOVERNOR We have a good many here.

COKESON Name of Falder, forgery. [Producing a card, and handing it to the GOVERNOR] Firm of James and Walter How. Well known in the law.

THE GOVERNOR [Receiving the card-with a faint smile] What do you want to see me about, sir?

COKESON [Suddenly seeing the prisoners at exercise] Why! what a sight!

THE GOVERNOR Yes, we have that privilege from here; my office is being done up. [Sitting down at his table] Now, please!

COKESON [Dragging his eyes with difficulty from the window] I wanted to say a word to you; I shan't keep you long. [Confidentially] Fact is, I oughtn't to be here by rights. His sister came to me--he's got no father and mother--and she was in some distress. "My husband won't let me go and see him," she said; "says he's disgraced the family. And his other sister," she said, "is an invalid." And she asked me to come. Well, I take an interest in him. He was our junior--I go to the same chapel--and I didn't like to refuse. And what I wanted to tell you was, he seems lonely here.

THE GOVERNOR Not unnaturally.

COKESON I'm afraid it'll prey on my mind. I see a lot of them about working together.

THE GOVERNOR Those are local prisoners. The convicts serve their three months here in separate confinement, sir.

COKESON But we don't want to be unreasonable. He's quite downhearted. I wanted to ask you to let him run about with the others.

THE GOVERNOR [With faint amusement] Ring the bell-would you, Miller? [To COKESON] You'd like to hear what the doctor says about him, perhaps.

THE CHAPLAIN [Ringing the bell] You are not accustomed to prisons, it would seem, sir.

COKESON No. But it's a pitiful sight. He's quite a young fellow. I said to him: "Before a month's up" I said, "you'll be out and about with the others; it'll be a nice change for you." "A month!" he said --like that! "Come!" I said, "we mustn't exaggerate. What's a month? Why, it's nothing!" "A day," he said, "shut up in your cell thinking and brooding as I do, it's longer than a year outside. I can't help it," he said; "I try--but I'm built that way, Mr. COKESON." And, he held his hand up to his face. I could see the tears trickling through his fingers. It wasn't nice.

THE CHAPLAIN He's a young man with large, rather peculiar eyes, isn't he? Not Church of England, I think?

COKESON No.

THE CHAPLAIN I know.

THE GOVERNOR [To WOODER, who has come in] Ask the doctor to be good enough to come here for a minute. [WOODER salutes, and goes out] Let's see, he's not married?

COKESON No. [Confidentially] But there's a party he's very much attached to, not altogether com-il-fa. It's a sad story.

THE CHAPLAIN If it wasn't for drink and women, sir, this prison might be closed.

COKESON [Looking at the CHAPLAIN over his spectacles] Ye-es, but I wanted to tell you about that, special. He had hopes they'd have let her come and see him, but they haven't. Of course he asked me questions. I did my best, but I couldn't tell the poor young fellow a lie, with him in here--seemed like hitting him. But I'm afraid it's made him worse.

THE GOVERNOR What was this news then?

COKESON Like this. The woman had a nahsty, spiteful feller for a husband, and she'd left him. Fact is, she was going away with our young friend. It's not nice--but I've looked over it. Well, when he was put in here she said she'd earn her living apart, and wait for him to come out. That was a great consolation to him. But after a month she came to me--I don't know her personally--and she said: "I can't earn the children's living, let alone my own--I've got no friends. I'm obliged to keep out of everybody's way, else my husband'd get to know where I was. I'm very much reduced," she said. And she has lost flesh. "I'll have to go in the workhouse!" It's a painful story. I said to her: "No," I said, "not that! I've got a wife an' family, but sooner than you should do that I'll spare you a little myself." "Really," she said--she's a nice creature--" I don't like to take it from you. I think I'd better go back to my husband." Well, I know he's a nahsty, spiteful feller--drinks--but I didn't like to persuade her not to.

THE CHAPLAIN Surely, no.

COKESON Ye-es, but I'm sorry now; it's upset the poor young fellow dreadfully. And what I wanted to say was: He's got his three years to serve. I want things to be pleasant for him.

THE CHAPLAIN [With a touch of impatience] The Law hardly shares your view, I'm afraid.

COKESON But I can't help thinking that to shut him up there by himself'll turn him silly. And nobody wants that, I s'pose. I don't like to see a man cry.

THE CHAPLAIN It's a very rare thing for them to give way like that.

COKESON [Looking at him-in a tone of sudden dogged hostility] I keep dogs.

THE CHAPLAIN Indeed?

COKESON Ye-es. And I say this: I wouldn't shut one of them up all by himself, month after month, not if he'd bit me all over.

THE CHAPLAIN Unfortunately, the criminal is not a dog; he has a sense of right and wrong.

COKESON But that's not the way to make him feel it.

THE CHAPLAIN Ah! there I'm afraid we must differ.

COKESON It's the same with dogs. If you treat 'em with kindness they'll do anything for you; but to shut 'em up alone, it only makes 'em savage.

THE CHAPLAIN Surely you should allow those who have had a little more experience than yourself to know what is best for prisoners.

COKESON [Doggedly] I know this young feller, I've watched him for years. He's eurotic--got no stamina. His father died of consumption. I'm thinking of his future. If he's to be kept there shut up by himself, without a cat to keep him company, it'll do him harm. I said to him: "Where do you feel it?" "I can't tell you, Mr. COKESON," he said, "but sometimes I could beat my head against the wall." It's not nice.

During this speech the DOCTOR has entered. He is a medium-Sized, rather good-looking man, with a quick eye. He stands leaning against the window.

THE GOVERNOR This gentleman thinks the separate is telling on Q 3007--Falder, young thin fellow, star class. What do you say, Doctor Clements?

THE DOCTOR He doesn't like it, but it's not doing him any harm.

COKESON But he's told me.

THE DOCTOR Of course he'd say so, but we can always tell. He's lost no weight since he's been here.

COKESON It's his state of mind I'm speaking of.

THE DOCTOR His mind's all right so far. He's nervous, rather melancholy. I don't see signs of anything more. I'm watching him carefully.

COKESON [Nonplussed] I'm glad to hear you say that.

THE CHAPLAIN [More suavely] It's just at this period that we are able to make some impression on them, sir. I am speaking from my special standpoint.

COKESON [Turning bewildered to the GOVERNOR] I don't want to be unpleasant, but having given him this news, I do feel it's awkward.

THE GOVERNOR I'll make a point of seeing him to-day.

COKESON I'm much obliged to you. I thought perhaps seeing him every day you wouldn't notice it.

THE GOVERNOR [Rather sharply] If any sign of injury to his health shows itself his case will be reported at once. That's fully provided for. [He rises]

COKESON [Following his own thoughts] Of course, what you don't see doesn't trouble you; but having seen him, I don't want to have him on my mind.

THE GOVERNOR I think you may safely leave it to us, sir.

COKESON [Mollified and apologetic] I thought you'd understand me. I'm a plain man--never set myself up against authority. [Expanding to the CHAPLAIN] Nothing personal meant. Good-morning.

As he goes out the three officials do not look at each other, but their faces wear peculiar expressions.

THE CHAPLAIN Our friend seems to think that prison is a hospital.

COKESON [Returning suddenly with an apologetic air] There's just one little thing. This woman--I suppose I mustn't ask you to let him see her. It'd be a rare treat for them both. He's thinking about her all the time. Of course she's not his wife. But he's quite safe in here. They're a pitiful couple. You couldn't make an exception?

THE GOVERNOR [Wearily] As you say, my dear sir, I couldn't make an exception; he won't be allowed another visit of any sort till he goes to a convict prison.

COKESON I see. [Rather coldly] Sorry to have troubled you. [He again goes out]

THE CHAPLAIN [Shrugging his shoulders] The plain man indeed, poor fellow. Come and have some lunch, Clements?

He and the DOCTOR go out talking.

The GOVERNOR, with a sigh, sits down at his table and takes up a pen.

John Galsworthy

Sorry, no summary available yet.