Justice by John Galsworthy
The curtain falls.
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 yourself?
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 governor----
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 home.
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 up?
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 silent]
COKESON [With fearful curiosity] Why, what happened then?
RUTH [With a laugh] My employer happened then--he's happened ever since.
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 chance.
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 about him!
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 the window.]
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 blotting-paper] Good-morning.
RUTH Thank you.
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 clerk's place?
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----
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.
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 word.
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.
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 you.
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 thing.
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 criminals!
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.
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 again, Falder.
FALDER [Who has recovered his self-control, takes the hand] Thank you, sir.
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 little family.
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 these days.
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 her.
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 shady altogether!
COKESON The two things together make it very awkward for you--I see that.
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 here.
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 steady front.
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 the better.
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.
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 I was.
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 future.
FALDER [Almost eagerly] Yes, sir, but you don't understand what prison is. It's here it gets you.
COKESON [In a whisper to James] I told you he wanted nourishment.
WALTER Yes, but, my dear fellow, that'll pass away. Time's merciful.
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 night.
JAMES This is painful, Falder. But you must see for yourself that it's impossible for a firm like this to close its eyes to everything. Give us this proof of your resolve to keep straight, and you can come back--not otherwise.
FALDER [After staring at JAMES, suddenly stiffens himself] I couldn't give her up. I couldn't! Oh, sir!
JAMES I'm very sorry, Falder, but I must be firm. It's for the benefit of you both in the long run. No good can come of this connection. It was the cause of all your disaster.
FALDER But sir, it means-having gone through all that-getting broken up--my nerves are in an awful state--for nothing. I did it for her.
JAMES Come! If she's anything of a woman she'll see it for herself. She won't want to drag you down further. If there were a prospect of your being able to marry her--it might be another thing.
FALDER It's not my fault, sir, that she couldn't get rid of him --she would have if she could. That's been the whole trouble from the beginning. [Looking suddenly at WALTER] . . . If anybody would help her! It's only money wants now, I'm sure.
COKESON [Breaking in, as WALTER hesitates, and is about to speak] I don't think we need consider that--it's rather far-fetched.
FALDER [To WALTER, appealing] He must have given her full cause since; she could prove that he drove her to leave him.
WALTER I'm inclined to do what you say, Falder, if it can be managed.
FALDER Oh, sir!
He goes to the window and looks down into the street.
COKESON [Hurriedly] You don't take me, Mr. Walter. I have my reasons.
FALDER [From the window] She's down there, sir. Will you see her? I can beckon to her from here.
JAMES [With a sharp nod] Yes, let her come.
FALDER beckons from the window.
COKESON [In a low fluster to JAMES and WALTER] No, Mr. James. She's not been quite what she ought to ha' been, while this young man's been away. She's lost her chance. We can't consult how to swindle the Law.
FALDER [With instinctive apprehension of some change--looking from one to the other] There's been nothing between us, sir, to prevent it . . . . What I said at the trial was true. And last night we only just sat in the Park.
SWEEDLE comes in from the outer office.
COKESON What is it?
SWEEDLE Mrs. Honeywill. [There is silence]
JAMES Show her in.
JAMES [Sharply] Shut the door there. [SWEEDLE shuts the door] We've asked you to come up because there are certain facts to be faced in this matter. I understand you have only just met Falder again.
RUTH Yes--only yesterday.
JAMES He's told us about himself, and we're very sorry for him. I've promised to take him back here if he'll make a fresh start. [Looking steadily at RUTH] This is a matter that requires courage, ma'am.
RUTH, who is looking at FALDER, begins to twist her hands in front of her as though prescient of disaster.
FALDER Mr. Walter How is good enough to say that he'll help us to get you a divorce.
JAMES I don't think that's practicable, Falder.
FALDER But, Sir----!
JAMES [Steadily] Now, Mrs. Honeywill. You're fond of him.
RUTH Yes, Sir; I love him.
JAMES Then you don't want to stand in his way, do you?
RUTH [In a faint voice] I could take care of him.
JAMES The best way you can take care of him will be to give him up.
FALDER Nothing shall make me give you up. You can get a divorce. There's been nothing between us, has there?
RUTH [Mournfully shaking her head-without looking at him] No.
FALDER We'll keep apart till it's over, sir; if you'll only help us--we promise.
JAMES [To RUTH] You see the thing plainly, don't you? You see what I mean?
RUTH [Just above a whisper] Yes.
COKESON [To himself] There's a dear woman.
JAMES The situation is impossible.
RUTH Must I, Sir?
JAMES [Forcing himself to look at her] I put it to you, ma'am. His future is in your hands.
RUTH [Miserably] I want to do the best for him.
JAMES [A little huskily] That's right, that's right!
FALDER I don't understand. You're not going to give me up--after all this? There's something--[Starting forward to JAMES] Sir, I swear solemnly there's been nothing between us.
JAMES I believe you, Falder. Come, my lad, be as plucky as she is.
FALDER Just now you were going to help us. [He starts at RUTH, who is standing absolutely still; his face and hands twitch and quiver as the truth dawns on him] What is it? You've not been
JAMES [Hurriedly] There, there! That'll do, that'll do! I'll give you your chance, Falder. Don't let me know what you do with yourselves, that's all.
FALDER [As if he has not heard] Ruth?
COKESON [Suddenly] There's some one out there. [To RUTH] Go in here. You'll feel better by yourself for a minute.
JAMES [Pointing to the outer office] Get rid of that, whoever it is.
SWEEDLE [Opening the office door, in a scared voice] Detective- Sergeant blister.
WISTER Sorry to disturb you, sir. A clerk you had here, two years and a half ago: I arrested him in, this room.
JAMES What about him?
WISTER I thought perhaps I might get his whereabouts from you. [There is an awkward silence]
COKESON [Pleasantly, coming to the rescue] We're not responsible for his movements; you know that.
JAMES What do you want with him?
WISTER He's failed to report himself this last four weeks.
WALTER How d'you mean?
WISTER Ticket-of-leave won't be up for another six months, sir.
WALTER Has he to keep in touch with the police till then?
WISTER We're bound to know where he sleeps every night. I dare say we shouldn't interfere, sir, even though he hasn't reported himself. But we've just heard there's a serious matter of obtaining employment with a forged reference. What with the two things together--we must have him.
COKESON [Expansively] We're very busy at the moment. If you could make it convenient to call again we might be able to tell you then.
JAMES [Decisively] I'm a servant of the Law, but I dislike peaching. In fact, I can't do such a thing. If you want him you must find him without us.
WISTER [Noting the gesture--quietly] Very good, sir. I ought to warn you that, having broken the terms of his licence, he's still a convict, and sheltering a convict.
JAMES I shelter no one. But you mustn't come here and ask questions which it's not my business to answer.
WISTER [Dryly] I won't trouble you further then, gentlemen.
COKESON I'm sorry we couldn't give you the information. You quite understand, don't you? Good-morning!
COKESON The other door.... the other door!
WISTER [From within] Keep back, please!
WALTER Let him go this time, for God's sake!
WISTER I couldn't take the responsibility, sir.
FALDER [With a queer, desperate laugh] Good!
WALTER [With despair] That finishes him. It'll go on for ever now.
JAMES What's that?
WALTER [Starting forward to the inner room] The woman-she's fainting!
COKESON [Distracted] Here, my dear! There, there!
WALTER Have you any brandy?
COKESON I've got sherry.
WALTER Get it, then. Quick!
COKESON [With sherry] Here! It's good strong sherry. [They try to force the sherry between her lips.]
JAMES [Hurrying forward] What is it?
WISTER He jumped--neck's broken.
WALTER Good God!
WISTER He must have been mad to think he could give me the slip like that. And what was it--just a few months!
WALTER [Bitterly] Was that all?
JAMES What a desperate thing! [Then, in a voice unlike his own] Run for a doctor--you! [SWEEDLE rushes from the outer office] An ambulance!
WALTER [Turning suddenly] Look!
RUTH [In a whisper] What is it? He's not breathing. [She crouches over him] My dear! My pretty!
RUTH [Leaping to her feet] No, no! No, no! He's dead!
COKESON [Stealing forward. In a hoarse voice] There, there, poor dear woman!
COKESON No one'll touch him now! Never again! He's safe with gentle Jesus!
The curtain falls.