The scene is the managing clerk's room, at the offices of James
and Walter How, on a July morning. The room is old fashioned,
furnished with well-worn mahogany and leather, and lined with
tin boxes and estate plans. It has three doors. Two of them
are close together in the centre of a wall. One of these two
doors leads to the outer office, which is only divided from the
managing clerk's room by a partition of wood and clear glass;
and when the door into this outer office is opened there can be
seen the wide outer door leading out on to the stone stairway of
the building. The other of these two centre doors leads to
the junior clerk's room. The third door is that leading to the
The managing clerk, COKESON, is sitting at his table adding up
figures in a pass-book, and murmuring their numbers to himself.
He is a man of sixty, wearing spectacles; rather short, with a
bald head, and an honest, pugdog face. He is dressed in a
well-worn black frock-coat and pepper-and-salt trousers.
COKESON. And five's twelve, and three--fifteen, nineteen,
twenty-three, thirty-two, forty-one-and carry four. [He ticks the
page, and goes on murmuring] Five, seven, twelve, seventeen,
twenty-four and nine, thirty-three, thirteen and carry one.
He again makes a tick. The outer office door is opened, and
SWEEDLE, the office-boy, appears, closing the door behind him.
He is a pale youth of sixteen, with spiky hair.
COKESON. [With grumpy expectation] And carry one.
SWEEDLE. There's a party wants to see Falder, Mr. Cokeson.
COKESON. Five, nine, sixteen, twenty-one, twenty-nine--and carry
two. Send him to Morris's. What name?
COKESON. What's his business?
SWEEDLE. It's a woman.
COKESON. A lady?
SWEEDLE. No, a person.
COKESON. Ask her in. Take this pass-book to Mr. James. [He closes
SWEEDLE. [Reopening the door] Will you come in, please?
RUTH HONEYWILL comes in. She is a tall woman, twenty-six years
old, unpretentiously dressed, with black hair and eyes, and an
ivory-white, clear-cut face. She stands very still, having a
natural dignity of pose and gesture.
SWEEDLE goes out into the partners' room with the pass-book.
COKESON. [Looking round at RUTH] The young man's out.
[Suspiciously] State your business, please.
RUTH. [Who speaks in a matter-of-fact voice, and with a slight
West-Country accent] It's a personal matter, sir.
COKESON. We don't allow private callers here. Will you leave a
RUTH. I'd rather see him, please.
She narrows her dark eyes and gives him a honeyed look.
COKESON. [Expanding] It's all against the rules. Suppose I had my
friends here to see me! It'd never do!
RUTH. No, sir.
COKESON. [A little taken aback] Exactly! And here you are wanting
to see a junior clerk!
RUTH. Yes, sir; I must see him.
COKESON. [Turning full round to her with a sort of outraged
interest] But this is a lawyer's office. Go to his private address.
RUTH. He's not there.
COKESON. [Uneasy] Are you related to the party?
RUTH. No, sir.
COKESON. [In real embarrassment] I don't know what to say. It's no
affair of the office.
RUTH. But what am I to do?
COKESON. Dear me! I can't tell you that.
SWEEDLE comes back. He crosses to the outer office and passes
through into it, with a quizzical look at Cokeson, carefully
leaving the door an inch or two open.
COKESON. [Fortified by this look] This won't do, you know, this
won't do at all. Suppose one of the partners came in!
An incoherent knocking and chuckling is heard from the outer
door of the outer office.
SWEEDLE. [Putting his head in] There's some children outside here.
RUTH. They're mine, please.
SWEEDLE. Shall I hold them in check?
RUTH. They're quite small, sir. [She takes a step towards COKESON]
COKESON. You mustn't take up his time in office hours; we're a clerk
short as it is.
RUTH. It's a matter of life and death.
COKESON. [Again outraged] Life and death!
SWEEDLE. Here is Falder.
FALDER has entered through the outer office. He is a pale,
good-looking young man, with quick, rather scared eyes. He
moves towards the door of the clerks' office, and stands there
COKESON. Well, I'll give you a minute. It's not regular.
Taking up a bundle of papers, he goes out into the partners'
RUTH. [In a low, hurried voice] He's on the drink again, Will. He
tried to cut my throat last night. I came out with the children
before he was awake. I went round to you.
FALDER. I've changed my digs.
RUTH. Is it all ready for to-night?
FALDER. I've got the tickets. Meet me 11.45 at the booking office.
For God's sake don't forget we're man and wife! [Looking at her with
tragic intensity] Ruth!
RUTH. You're not afraid of going, are you?
FALDER. Have you got your things, and the children's?
RUTH. Had to leave them, for fear of waking Honeywill, all but one
bag. I can't go near home again.
FALDER. [Wincing] All that money gone for nothing.
How much must you have?
RUTH. Six pounds--I could do with that, I think.
FALDER. Don't give away where we're going. [As if to himself] When
I get out there I mean to forget it all.
RUTH. If you're sorry, say so. I'd sooner he killed me than take
you against your will.
FALDER. [With a queer smile] We've got to go. I don't care; I'll
RUTH. You've just to say; it's not too late.
FALDER. It is too late. Here's seven pounds. Booking office 11.45
to-night. If you weren't what you are to me, Ruth----!
RUTH. Kiss me!
They cling together passionately, there fly apart just as
COKESON re-enters the room. RUTH turns and goes out through the
outer office. COKESON advances deliberately to his chair and
COKESON. This isn't right, Falder.
FALDER. It shan't occur again, sir.
COKESON. It's an improper use of these premises.
FALDER. Yes, sir.
COKESON. You quite understand-the party was in some distress; and,
having children with her, I allowed my feelings---- [He opens a
drawer and produces from it a tract] Just take this! "Purity in the
Home." It's a well-written thing.
FALDER. [Taking it, with a peculiar expression] Thank you, sir.
COKESON. And look here, Falder, before Mr. Walter comes, have you
finished up that cataloguing Davis had in hand before he left?
FALDER. I shall have done with it to-morrow, sir--for good.
COKESON. It's over a week since Davis went. Now it won't do,
Falder. You're neglecting your work for private life. I shan't
mention about the party having called, but----
FALDER. [Passing into his room] Thank you, sir.
COKESON stares at the door through which FALDER has gone out;
then shakes his head, and is just settling down to write, when
WALTER How comes in through the outer Office. He is a rather
refined-looking man of thirty-five, with a pleasant, almost