ACT III SCENE I
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
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
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. [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
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
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,
WOODER motions to some one without, and as the visitor comes in
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
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
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
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
THE GOVERNOR. [With faint amusement] Ring the bell-would you,
Miller? [To COKESON] You'd like to hear what the doctor says about
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?
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-fo. 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
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,
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
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
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
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
The curtain falls.