The scene is again COKESON'S room, at a few minutes to ten of a
March morning, two years later. The doors are all open.
SWEEDLE, now blessed with a sprouting moustache, is getting the
offices ready. He arranges papers on COKESON'S table; then goes
to a covered washstand, raises the lid, and looks at himself in
the mirror. While he is gazing his full RUTH HONEYWILL comes in
through the outer office and stands in the doorway. There seems
a kind of exultation and excitement behind her habitual
SWEEDLE. [Suddenly seeing her, and dropping the lid of the washstand
with a bang] Hello! It's you!
SWEEDLE. There's only me here! They don't waste their time hurrying
down in the morning. Why, it must be two years since we had the
pleasure of seeing you. [Nervously] What have you been doing with
RUTH. [Sardonically] Living.
SWEEDLE. [Impressed] If you want to see him [he points to COKESON'S
chair], he'll be here directly--never misses--not much. [Delicately]
I hope our friend's back from the country. His time's been up these
three months, if I remember. [RUTH nods] I was awful sorry about
that. The governor made a mistake--if you ask me.
RUTH. He did.
SWEEDLE. He ought to have given him a chanst. And, I say, the judge
ought to ha' let him go after that. They've forgot what human
nature's like. Whereas we know. [RUTH gives him a honeyed smile]
SWEEDLE. They come down on you like a cartload of bricks, flatten
you out, and when you don't swell up again they complain of it. I
know 'em--seen a lot of that sort of thing in my time. [He shakes
his head in the plenitude of wisdom] Why, only the other day the
But COKESON has come in through the outer office; brisk with
east wind, and decidedly greyer.
COKESON. [Drawing off his coat and gloves] Why! it's you! [Then
motioning SWEEDLE out, and closing the door] Quite a stranger! Must
be two years. D'you want to see me? I can give you a minute. Sit
down! Family well?
RUTH. Yes. I'm not living where I was.
COKESON. [Eyeing her askance] I hope things are more comfortable at
RUTH. I couldn't stay with Honeywill, after all.
COKESON. You haven't done anything rash, I hope. I should be sorry
if you'd done anything rash.
RUTH. I've kept the children with me.
COKESON. [Beginning to feel that things are not so jolly as ha had
hoped] Well, I'm glad to have seen you. You've not heard from the
young man, I suppose, since he came out?
RUTH. Yes, I ran across him yesterday.
COKESON. I hope he's well.
RUTH. [With sudden fierceness] He can't get anything to do. It's
dreadful to see him. He's just skin and bone.
COKESON. [With genuine concern] Dear me! I'm sorry to hear that.
[On his guard again] Didn't they find him a place when his time was
RUTH. He was only there three weeks. It got out.
COKESON. I'm sure I don't know what I can do for you. I don't like
to be snubby.
RUTH. I can't bear his being like that.
COKESON. [Scanning her not unprosperous figure] I know his relations
aren't very forthy about him. Perhaps you can do something for him,
till he finds his feet.
RUTH. Not now. I could have--but not now.
COKESON. I don't understand.
RUTH. [Proudly] I've seen him again--that's all over.
COKESON. [Staring at her--disturbed] I'm a family man--I don't want
to hear anything unpleasant. Excuse me--I'm very busy.
RUTH. I'd have gone home to my people in the country long ago, but
they've never got over me marrying Honeywill. I never was waywise,
Mr. Cokeson, but I'm proud. I was only a girl, you see, when I
married him. I thought the world of him, of course . . . he used
to come travelling to our farm.
COKESON. [Regretfully] I did hope you'd have got on better, after
you saw me.
RUTH. He used me worse than ever. He couldn't break my nerve, but I
lost my health; and then he began knocking the children about. I
couldn't stand that. I wouldn't go back now, if he were dying.
COKESON. [Who has risen and is shifting about as though dodging a
stream of lava] We mustn't be violent, must we?
RUTH. [Smouldering] A man that can't behave better than that--
[There is silence]
COKESON. [Fascinated in spite of himself] Then there you were! And
what did you do then?
RUTH. [With a shrug] Tried the same as when I left him before...,
making skirts... cheap things. It was the best I could get, but I
never made more than ten shillings a week, buying my own cotton and
working all day; I hardly ever got to bed till past twelve. I kept
at it for nine months. [Fiercely] Well, I'm not fit for that; I
wasn't made for it. I'd rather die.
COKESON. My dear woman! We mustn't talk like that.
RUTH. It was starvation for the children too--after what they'd
always had. I soon got not to care. I used to be too tired. [She is
COKESON. [With fearful curiosity] Why, what happened then?
RUTH. [With a laugh] My employer happened then--he's happened ever
COKESON. Dear! Oh dear! I never came across a thing like this.
RUTH. [Dully] He's treated me all right. But I've done with that.
[Suddenly her lips begin to quiver, and she hides them with the back
of her hand] I never thought I'd see him again, you see. It was just
a chance I met him by Hyde Park. We went in there and sat down, and
he told me all about himself. Oh! Mr. Cokeson, give him another
COKESON. [Greatly disturbed] Then you've both lost your livings!
What a horrible position!
RUTH. If he could only get here--where there's nothing to find out
COKESON. We can't have anything derogative to the firm.
RUTH. I've no one else to go to.
COKESON. I'll speak to the partners, but I don't think they'll take
him, under the circumstances. I don't really.
RUTH. He came with me; he's down there in the street. [She points to
COKESON. [On his dignity] He shouldn't have done that until he's
sent for. [Then softening at the look on her face] We've got a
vacancy, as it happens, but I can't promise anything.
RUTH. It would be the saving of him.
COKESON. Well, I'll do what I can, but I'm not sanguine. Now tell
him that I don't want him till I see how things are. Leave your
address? [Repeating her] 83 Mullingar Street? [He notes it on
RUTH. Thank you.
She moves towards the door, turns as if to speak, but does not,
and goes away.
COKESON. [Wiping his head and forehead with a large white cotton
handkerchief] What a business! [Then looking amongst his papers, he
sounds his bell. SWEEDLE answers it]
COKESON. Was that young Richards coming here to-day after the
COKESON. Well, keep him in the air; I don't want to see him yet.
SWEEDLE. What shall I tell him, sir?
COKESON. [With asperity] invent something. Use your brains. Don't
stump him off altogether.
SWEEDLE. Shall I tell him that we've got illness, sir?
COKESON. No! Nothing untrue. Say I'm not here to-day.
SWEEDLE. Yes, sir. Keep him hankering?
COKESON. Exactly. And look here. You remember Falder? I may be
having him round to see me. Now, treat him like you'd have him treat
you in a similar position.
SWEEDLE. I naturally should do.
COKESON. That's right. When a man's down never hit 'im. 'Tisn't
necessary. Give him a hand up. That's a metaphor I recommend to you
in life. It's sound policy.
SWEEDLE. Do you think the governors will take him on again, sir?
COKESON. Can't say anything about that. [At the sound of some one
having entered the outer office] Who's there?
SWEEDLE. [Going to the door and looking] It's Falder, sir.
COKESON. [Vexed] Dear me! That's very naughty of her. Tell him to
call again. I don't want----
He breaks off as FALDER comes in. FALDER is thin, pale, older,
his eyes have grown more restless. His clothes are very worn
SWEEDLE, nodding cheerfully, withdraws.
COKESON. Glad to see you. You're rather previous. [Trying to keep
things pleasant] Shake hands! She's striking while the iron's hot.
[He wipes his forehead] I don't blame her. She's anxious.
FALDER timidly takes COKESON's hand and glances towards the
COKESON. No--not yet! Sit down! [FALDER sits in the chair at the
aide of COKESON's table, on which he places his cap] Now you are
here I'd like you to give me a little account of yourself. [Looking
at him over his spectacles] How's your health?
FALDER. I'm alive, Mr. Cokeson.
COKESON. [Preoccupied] I'm glad to hear that. About this matter.
I don't like doing anything out of the ordinary; it's not my habit.
I'm a plain man, and I want everything smooth and straight. But I
promised your friend to speak to the partners, and I always keep my