FALDER. I just want a chance, Mr. Cokeson. I've paid for that job a
thousand times and more. I have, sir. No one knows. They say I
weighed more when I came out than when I went in. They couldn't
weigh me here [he touches his head] or here [he touches--his heart,
and gives a sort of laugh]. Till last night I'd have thought there
was nothing in here at all.
COKESON. [Concerned] You've not got heart disease?
FALDER. Oh! they passed me sound enough.
COKESON. But they got you a place, didn't they?
FALSER. Yes; very good people, knew all about it--very kind to me.
I thought I was going to get on first rate. But one day, all of a
sudden, the other clerks got wind of it.... I couldn't stick it, Mr.
COKESON, I couldn't, sir.
COKESON. Easy, my dear fellow, easy!
FALDER. I had one small job after that, but it didn't last.
COKESON. How was that?
FALDER. It's no good deceiving you, Mr. Cokeson. The fact is, I
seem to be struggling against a thing that's all round me. I can't
explain it: it's as if I was in a net; as fast as I cut it here, it
grows up there. I didn't act as I ought to have, about references;
but what are you to do? You must have them. And that made me
afraid, and I left. In fact, I'm--I'm afraid all the time now.
He bows his head and leans dejectedly silent over the table.
COKESON. I feel for you--I do really. Aren't your sisters going to
do anything for you?
FALDER. One's in consumption. And the other----
COKESON. Ye...es. She told me her husband wasn't quite pleased with
FALDER. When I went there--they were at supper--my sister wanted to
give me a kiss--I know. But he just looked at her, and said: " What
have you come for? "Well, I pocketed my pride and I said: "Aren't
you going to give me your hand, Jim? Cis is, I know," I said. "Look
here!" he said, "that's all very well, but we'd better come to an
understanding. I've been expecting you, and I've made up my mind.
I'll give you fifteen pounds to go to Canada with." "I see," I
said-"good riddance! No, thanks; keep your fifteen pounds."
Friendship's a queer thing when you've been where I have.
COKESON. I understand. Will you take the fifteen pound from me?
[Flustered, as FALDER regards him with a queer smile] Quite without
prejudice; I meant it kindly.
FALDER. I'm not allowed to leave the country.
COKESON. Oh! ye...es--ticket-of-leave? You aren't looking the
FALDER. I've slept in the Park three nights this week. The dawns
aren't all poetry there. But meeting her--I feel a different man
this morning. I've often thought the being fond of hers the best
thing about me; it's sacred, somehow--and yet it did for me. That's
queer, isn't it?
COKESON. I'm sure we're all very sorry for you.
FALDER. That's what I've found, Mr. Cokeson. Awfully sorry for me.
[With quiet bitterness] But it doesn't do to associate with
COKESON. Come, come, it's no use calling yourself names. That never
did a man any good. Put a face on it.
FALDER. It's easy enough to put a face on it, sir, when you're
independent. Try it when you're down like me. They talk about
giving you your deserts. Well, I think I've had just a bit over.
COKESON. [Eyeing him askance over his spectacles I hope they haven't
made a Socialist of you.
FALDER is suddenly still, as if brooding over his past self; he
utters a peculiar laugh.
COKESON. You must give them credit for the best intentions. Really
you must. Nobody wishes you harm, I'm sure.
FALDER. I believe that, Mr. Cokeson. Nobody wishes you harm, but
they down you all the same. This feeling-- [He stares round him, as
though at something closing in] It's crushing me. [With sudden
impersonality] I know it is.
COKESON. [Horribly disturbed] There's nothing there! We must try
and take it quiet. I'm sure I've often had you in my prayers. Now
leave it to me. I'll use my gumption and take 'em when they're
jolly. [As he speaks the two partners come in]
COKESON [Rather disconcerted, but trying to put them all at ease]
I didn't expect you quite so soon. I've just been having a talk with
this young man. I think you'll remember him.
JAMES. [With a grave, keen look] Quite well. How are you, Falder?
WALTER. [Holding out his hand almost timidly] Very glad to see you
FALDER. [Who has recovered his self-control, takes the hand] Thank
COKESON. Just a word, Mr. James. [To FALDER, pointing to the
clerks' office] You might go in there a minute. You know your way.
Our junior won't be coming this morning. His wife's just had a
FALDER, goes uncertainly out into the clerks' office.
COKESON. [Confidentially] I'm bound to tell you all about it. He's
quite penitent. But there's a prejudice against him. And you're not
seeing him to advantage this morning; he's under-nourished. It's
very trying to go without your dinner.
JAMES. Is that so, COKESON?
COKESON. I wanted to ask you. He's had his lesson. Now we know all
about him, and we want a clerk. There is a young fellow applying,
but I'm keeping him in the air.
JAMES. A gaol-bird in the office, COKESON? I don't see it.
WALTER. "The rolling of the chariot-wheels of Justice!" I've never
got that out of my head.
JAMES. I've nothing to reproach myself with in this affair. What's
he been doing since he came out?
COKESON. He's had one or two places, but he hasn't kept them. He's
sensitive--quite natural. Seems to fancy everybody's down on him.
JAMES. Bad sign. Don't like the fellow--never did from the first.
"Weak character"'s written all over him.
WALTER. I think we owe him a leg up.
JAMES. He brought it all on himself.
WALTER. The doctrine of full responsibility doesn't quite hold in
JAMES. [Rather grimly] You'll find it safer to hold it for all
that, my boy.
WALTER. For oneself, yes--not for other people, thanks.
JAMES. Well! I don't want to be hard.
COKESON. I'm glad to hear you say that. He seems to see something
[spreading his arms] round him. 'Tisn't healthy.
JAMES. What about that woman he was mixed up with? I saw some one
uncommonly like her outside as we came in.
COKESON. That! Well, I can't keep anything from you. He has met
JAMES. Is she with her husband?
JAMES. Falder living with her, I suppose?
COKESON. [Desperately trying to retain the new-found jollity] I
don't know that of my own knowledge. 'Tisn't my business.
JAMES. It's our business, if we're going to engage him, COKESON.
COKESON. [Reluctantly] I ought to tell you, perhaps. I've had the
party here this morning.
JAMES. I thought so. [To WALTER] No, my dear boy, it won't do. Too
COKESON. The two things together make it very awkward for you--I see
WALTER. [Tentatively] I don't quite know what we have to do with
his private life.
JAMES. No, no! He must make a clean sheet of it, or he can't come
WALTER. Poor devil!
COKESON. Will you--have him in? [And as JAMES nods] I think I can
get him to see reason.
JAMES. [Grimly] You can leave that to me, COKESON.
WALTER. [To JAMES, in a low voice, while COKESON is summoning
FALDER] His whole future may depend on what we do, dad.
FALDER comes in. He has pulled himself together, and presents a
JAMES. Now look here, Falder. My son and I want to give you another
chance; but there are two things I must say to you. In the first
place: It's no good coming here as a victim. If you've any notion
that you've been unjustly treated--get rid of it. You can't play
fast and loose with morality and hope to go scot-free. If Society
didn't take care of itself, nobody would--the sooner you realise that
FALDER. Yes, sir; but--may I say something?
FALDER. I had a lot of time to think it over in prison. [He stops]
COKESON. [Encouraging him] I'm sure you did.
FALDER. There were all sorts there. And what I mean, sir, is, that
if we'd been treated differently the first time, and put under
somebody that could look after us a bit, and not put in prison, not a
quarter of us would ever have got there.
JAMES. [Shaking his head] I'm afraid I've very grave doubts of that,
FALDER. [With a gleam of malice] Yes, sir, so I found.
JAMES. My good fellow, don't forget that you began it.
FALDER. I never wanted to do wrong.
JAMES. Perhaps not. But you did.
FALDER. [With all the bitterness of his past suffering] It's knocked
me out of time. [Pulling himself up] That is, I mean, I'm not what
JAMES. This isn't encouraging for us, Falder.
COKESON. He's putting it awkwardly, Mr. James.
FALDER. [Throwing over his caution from the intensity of his
feeling] I mean it, Mr. Cokeson.
JAMES. Now, lay aside all those thoughts, Falder, and look to the
FALDER. [Almost eagerly] Yes, sir, but you don't understand what
prison is. It's here it gets you.
He grips his chest.
COKESON. [In a whisper to James] I told you he wanted nourishment.
WALTER. Yes, but, my dear fellow, that'll pass away. Time's
FALDER. [With his face twitching] I hope so, sir.
JAMES. [Much more gently] Now, my boy, what you've got to do is to
put all the past behind you and build yourself up a steady
reputation. And that brings me to the second thing. This woman you
were mixed up with you must give us your word, you know, to have done
with that. There's no chance of your keeping straight if you're
going to begin your future with such a relationship.
FALDER. [Looking from one to the other with a hunted expression] But
sir . . . but sir . . . it's the one thing I looked forward to
all that time. And she too . . . I couldn't find her before last