A MAN OF BUSINESS
A POLISH PEASANT WOMAN
A DEAD CHILD
THE THIRD OFFICER
OF A STEAMER
life-boat of a passenger steamer is drifting helplessly off the Grand
Banks of Newfoundland. A dense fog lies heavily upon the still sea. There
is no wind and the long swells of the ocean are barely perceptible. The
surface of the water is shadowy and unreal in its perfect calmness. A
menacing silence, like the genius of the fog, broods over everything.
figures in the boat are darkly outlined against the gray background of
vapor. Two are seated close together on the thwarts in the middle. The
other is huddled stiffly at one end. None of their faces can be
is just about to break and as the action progresses the vague twilight of
dawn creeps over the sea. This, in turn, is succeeded by as bright a
semblance of daylight as can sift through the thick screen of fog.
A MAN’S VOICE—(appallingly
brisk and breezy under the circumstances) Brrr! I wish daylight
would come. I’m beginning to feel pretty chilly. How about you? (He
receives no answer and raises his voice, the fear of solitude suddenly
alive within him.)
Hello there! You haven’t gone to sleep, have you?
refined than the first, clear and unobtrusively melancholy)
No, I’m not asleep.
Thought you might have dozed off. I did a while ago—eyes refused to
stay open any longer—couldn’t imagine where I was when I woke up—had
forgotten all about the damned wreck.
are fortunate to be able to sleep. I wish I could go to sleep and
come now! You mustn’t keep thinking about it. That won’t do any good.
Brace up! We’re sure to get out of this mess all right. I’ve figured
it all out. You know how long a time it was between the time we hit the
derelict— it was a derelict we hit, wasn’t it?
the wireless was going all the time, if you remember, and one of the
officers told me we had lots of answers from ships saying they were on the
way to help us. One of them is sure to pick us up.
this’ll all go away as soon as the sun goes up. I’ve seen plenty like
it at my country place on the Connecticut shore, maybe not as thick as
this one but nearly as bad, and when
the sun came up they always disappeared before the morning was over.
forget we are now near the Grand Banks, the home of fog.
a laugh that is a bit troubled)
I must say you aren’t a very cheerful companion. Why don’t you
look at the bright side? (a pause during which he is
evidently thinking over what the other man has told him)
The Grand Banks? Hmm, well, I refuse to be scared.
have no intention of making our situation seem worse than it really is. I
have every hope that we will eventually be rescued but it’s better not
to expect too much. It only makes disappointment more bitter when it
suppose you’re right but I can’t help being optimistic.
remember how downcast you were yesterday when we failed to hear any sound
of a ship? Today is liable to be the same unless this fog lifts. So
don’t hope for too much.
forgetting the fact that there was no sun yesterday. That kind of weather
can’t last forever.
Perhaps we could not see the sun on account of the fog.
a pause) I’ll admit I did
feel pretty dismal yesterday—after that terrible thing happened.
You mean after the child died?
Yes. I thought that woman would never stop crying. Ugh! It was
awful—her cries, and the fog, and not another sound anywhere.
was the most horrible thing I have ever seen or even heard of. I never
dreamed anything could be so full of
was enough to give anyone the blues, that’s sure. Besides my clothes
were wet and I was freezing cold and you can imagine how merry I felt. (grumbling) Not that they’re
any dryer now but somehow I feel warmer.
a long pause)
So you think the child’s death was a terrible thing?
Of course. Why? Don’t you?
you said just a minute ago that—
was speaking of the grief and despair of the mother. But death was kind to
the child. It saved him many a long year of sordid drudgery.
don’t know as I agree with you there. Everyone has a chance in this
world; but we’ve all got to work hard, of course. That’s the way I
figure it out.
chance had that poor child? Naturally sickly and weak from underfeeding,
transplanted to the stinking room of a tenement or the filthy hovel of a
mining village, what glowing opportunities did life hold out that death
should not be regarded as a blessing for him? I mean if he possessed the
ordinary amount of ability and intelligence—considering him as the
average child of ignorant Polish immigrants. Surely his prospects of ever
becoming anything but a beast of burden were not bright, were they?
no, of course not, but—
you could bring him back to life would you do so? Could you
conscientiously drag him away from that fine sleep of his to face what he
would have to face? Leaving the joy you would give his mother out of the
question, would you do it for him individually?
Perhaps not, looking at it from that standpoint.
is no other standpoint. The child was diseased at birth, stricken with a
hereditary ill that only the most vital men are able to shake off.
mean poverty—the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases.
Oh, that’s it, eh? Well, it seems to be a pretty necessary sickness
and you’ll hardly find a cure for it. I see you’re a bit of a
no. But there are times when the frightful injustice of it all sickens me
with life in general.
find life pretty good. I don’t know as I’d change it even if I could.
like a successful man. For I’m sure you are a successful man, are you
not? I mean in a worldly way.
Yes, you might call me so, I guess. I’ve made my little pile but it
was no easy time getting it, let me tell you.
had some advantages, did you not? Education and plenty to eat, and a clean
home, and so forth?
went to high school and of course had the other things you mentioned. My
people were not exactly what you could call poor but they were certainly
not rich. Why do you ask?
you think you would be as successful and satisfied with life if you had
started with handicaps like those which that poor dead child would have
had to contend with if he had lived?
Oh, I don’t know! What’s the use of talking about what might have
happened? I’m not responsible for the way the world is run.
supposing you are responsible?
mean supposing we—the self-satisfied, successful members of
society—are responsible for the injustice visited upon the heads of our
less fortunate “brothers-inChrist” because of our shameful
indifference to it. We see misery all around us and we do not care. We do
nothing to prevent it. Are we not then, in part at least, responsible for
it? Have you ever thought of that?
tones of annoyance)
No, and I’m not going to start in thinking about it now.
SECOND VOICE—(quietly) I see. It’s a case
of what is Hecuba to you that you should weep for her.
Hecuba? Oh, you mean the woman. You can’t accuse me of any
heartlessness there. I never felt so sorry for anyone in my life. Why I
was actually crying myself at one time I felt so sorry for her. By the
way, she hasn’t made a sound since it got dark last evening. Is she
asleep? Can you see her? You’re nearer to her than I am.
(It is becoming gradually
lighter although the fog is as thick as ever. The faces of the two men in
the boat can be dimly distinguished —one round, jowly, and clean-shaven;
the other oval with big dark eyes and a black mustache and black hair
pushed back from his high forehead. The huddled figure at the end of the
boat is clearly that of a woman. One arm is flung over her face concealing
it. In the other she clutches something like a bundle of white clothes.)
the Second Voice who is seated on the thwart nearer to the woman—turning
round and peering in her direction)
She is very still. She must be asleep. I hope so, poor woman!
MAN—Yes, a little sleep will do her a world of
MAN—She still holds the body of the child close to
her breast. (He
returns to his former position facing the Other Man.)
I suppose you—
Excuse my interrupting you but have you noticed how light it’s
getting? It didn’t strike me until you turned around just now. I can see
your face plainly and a few minutes ago I couldn’t tell whether you were
a blond or brunette.
MAN—Now if this fog would only lift—
MAN—It’s going to lift. You wait and see.
You’ll find my optimism is justified. But what was it you started to
MAN—I was saying that I supposed you had never
seen this woman on board.
MAN—No. I was in the smoking room playing bridge
most of the time. I’m not much of a sailor—don’t care much about the
water—just went over to Europe because the wife and the girls insisted.
I was bored to death—made an excuse to get away as soon as I could. No
sir, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m a business man pure
and simple and the farther I get away from that business the more
dissatisfied I am. I’ve built that business up from nothing and it’s
sort of like a child of mine. It gives me pleasure to watch over it and
when I’m away I’m uneasy. I don’t like to leave it in strange hands.
As for travelling, little old New York in the U. S. A. is good enough for
pauses impressively, waiting for some word of approval for his sterling
patriotic principles. The Dark Man is silent and he of the U. S. A.
continues, a bit disconcerted.)
But you asked me if I had seen the woman. I don’t think so because I
never went down into the steerage. I know some of the first class
passengers did but I wasn’t curious. It’s a filthy sort of hole,
MAN—It’s not so bad. I spent quite a good deal
of my time down there.
of the jowly, fat face and the bald spot is such by his own confession)
In your role of reformer?
MAN—No. Simply because I found the people in the
steerage more interesting to talk to than the second class passengers. I
am not a reformer—at least not in the professional sense.
mind my asking what particular line you are in?
MAN—I am a writer.
MAN—I thought it was something of the kind. I knew
you weren’t in business when I heard those Socialistic ideas of yours. (condescendingly)
Beautiful idea—Socialism—but too impractical—never come
about—just a dream.
MAN—I’m not a Socialist—especially—just a
humanist, that is all.
MAN—What particular kind of writing do you do?
MAN—I write poetry.
a tone indicating that in his mind poets and harmless lunatics have more
than one point in common)
Oh I see. Well, there’s not much money in that, is there?
I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to feel hungry. Is that
box of crackers near you? (The
Poet reaches in under a thwart and pulls out a box of sea-biscuits. The
Business Man takes a handful and munches greedily.) Never thought hard-tack could taste so good. Aren’t you going
to have any?
I am not hungry. The thought of that poor woman takes all my hunger away.
I used to watch her every day down in the steerage playing with her little
son who is now dead. I think he must have been the only child she ever
had, the look on her face was so wonderfully tender as she bent over him.
What will her life be now that death has robbed her of the only recompense
for her slavery? It seems such needless cruelty. Why was I not taken
instead?—I, who have no family or friends to weep, and am not afraid to
mouth full) You take things to heart too much. That’s just like a poet.
She’ll forget all about it—probably sooner than you will. One forgets
everything in time. What a devil of a world it would be if we didn’t. (He takes another handful
of sea-biscuits and continues his munching. The Poet turns away from him
Funny thing when you come to think of it—I mean how we happened to
come together in this boat. It’s a mystery to me how she ever got in
here. And then, how is it there’s no oars in this boat and still
there’s plenty of food? You remember there was no lack of life-boats,
and after the women and children were taken off I was ordered into one and
we were rowed away. The damned thing must have gotten smashed somehow for
it leaked like a sieve and in spite of our bailing we were soon dumped in
the water. I heard the noise of voices near us and tried to swim to one of
the other boats, but I must have got twisted in the fog for when I did
find a boat—and let me tell you I was pretty nearly “all in” about
then—it was this one and you and she were in it. Now what I want to know
is easily explained. Did you ever become so sick of disappointment and
weary of life in general that death appeared to you the only way out?
MAN—Hardly. But what has that to do—
and you will see. That is the way I felt—sick and weary of soul and
longing for sleep. When the ship struck the derelict it seemed to me
providential. Here was the solution I had been looking for. I would go
down with the ship and that small part of the world which knew me would
think my death an accident.
to eat in his amazement)
You mean to say you were going to commit—
was going to die, yes. So I hid in the steerage fearing that some of the
ship’s officers would insist on saving my life in spite of me. Finally
when everyone had gone I came out and walked around the main deck. I heard
the sound of voices come from a dark corner and discovered that this woman
and her child had been left behind. How that happened I don’t know.
Probably she hid because she was afraid the child would be crushed by the
terror-stricken immigrants. At any rate there she was and I decided she
was so happy in her love for her child that it would be wrong to let her
die. I looked around and found this life-boat had been lowered down to the
main deck and left hanging there. The oars had been taken out—probably
for extra rowers in some other boat. I persuaded the woman to climb in and
then went up to the boat deck and lowered the boat the rest of the way to
the water. This was not much of a task for the steamer was settling lower
in the water every minute. I then slid down one of the ropes to the boat
and cutting both of the lines that held her, pushed off. There was a faint
breeze which blew us slowly away from the sinking ship until she was
hidden in the fog. The suspense of waiting for her to go down was
terrible. Even as it was we were nearly swamped by the waves when the
steamer took her final plunge.
away from the Poet, firmly convinced that his convictions regarding the
similarity of poets and madmen are based upon fact) I hope you’ve
abandoned that suicide idea.
have—absolutely. I think all that happened to me is an omen sent by the
Gods to convince me my past unhappiness is past and my fortune will change
for the better.
MAN—That’s the way to talk! Superstition is a
good thing sometimes.
if I had known the sufferings that poor woman was to undergo as a result
of my reckless life-saving I would have let her go down with the ship and
MAN—Don’t think of it any longer. You couldn’t
help that. I wonder what it was the child died of? I thought it was asleep
when I heard it choke and cough—and the next minute she commenced to scream. I won’t forget those screams for the rest
of my life.
child was naturally frail and delicate and I suppose the fright he
received and the exposure combined to bring on some kind of convulsion. He
was dead when I went over to see what was the matter.
upward through the fog)
It’s getting considerably lighter. It must be about time for the sun
to rise—if we’re going to have any sun.
THE POET—(sadly) It was just about
this time yesterday morning when the poor little fellow died.
apprehensively toward the huddled figure in the end of the boat. Now that
it is lighter what appeared before like a bundle of white clothes can be
seen to be a child four or five years old with a thin, sallow face and
long, black curls. The body is rigid, wrapped in a white shawl, and the
eyes are open and glassy.) Let’s not talk any
more about it. She might wake up and start screaming again—and I can’t
does not understand English.
his head) She’d know we were
talking about the kid just the same. Mothers have an instinct when it
comes to that. I’ve seen that proved in my own family more than once.
you ever lost any of your children?
MAN—No. Thank God!
may well thank God, even if people do, as you claimed a while ago, forget
MAN—You’re not married, are you?
MAN—I didn’t think you were. (jocularly)
You people with artistic temperaments run more to affinities than to
wives. I suppose you’ve lots of those?
not hear or will not notice this question. He is staring through the fog
and speaks in excited tones.)
Did you hear that?
now when you were talking. I thought I heard a sound like a steamer’s
both listen intently. After a second or so the sound comes again, faint
and faroff wailing over the water.)
elated) By God, it is a steamer!
sounded nearer that time. She must be coming this way.
MAN—Oh, if only this rotten fog would lift for a
hope it will. We run as much risk of being run down as we do of being
saved while this continues. They couldn’t see us twenty feet away in
Can’t we yell or make some kind of a noise?
couldn’t hear us now. We can try when they get close to us. (a
pause during which they hear the steamer whistle again)
How cold the air is! Or is it my imagination?
MAN—No, I notice it too. I’ve been freezing to
death for the last five minutes. I wish we had the oars so we could row
and keep warm.
Do you hear that?
MAN—What? The whistle? I heard it a moment ago.
This is a sound like running water. There! Don’t you hear it now? (A
noise as of water falling over rocks comes clearly through the fog.)
MAN—Yes, I hear it. What can it be? There isn’t
any water out here except what’s under us. (with a shiver)
Brrr, but it’s chilly!
poor woman will be frozen when she wakes up. (He
takes off his ulster and walking carefully to the end of the boat covers
the form of the sleeping woman with it.)
MAN—It sounds louder every minute but I can’t
see anything. Danm this fog! (The
noise of the falling water grows more and more distinct. At regular
intervals the steamer’s whistle blows and that, too, seems to be drawing
bent over the sleeping woman)
Perhaps it may be land but I hardly think we could have drifted
Good God, what’s that? (The
Poet turns quickly around. Something huge and white is looming up through
the fog directly beside the boat. The boat drifts up to it sideways and
strikes against it with a slight jar. The Business Man shrinks away as far
along the thwart as he can get, causing the boat to tip a little to one
side. The spattering splash of falling water sounds from all around them.)
at the white mass towering above them) An iceberg! (turning
to the Business Man)
Steady there! You will be in the water in a minute if you’re not
careful. There is nothing to be frightened over. Lucky for us it’s calm
or we would be smashed to pieces.
by finding out that what he took for some horrible phantom of the sea is
an ice and water reality, moves over to the center of his thwart and
As it is we’ll only freeze to death. Is that what you mean?
his hands against his sides)
It is cold. I wonder how big
the berg is. Help me try to push the boat away from it. (They push against the side of the berg. The boat moves away a little but
drifts right back again.)
MAN—Ouch! My hands are freezing.
use wasting effort on that. The boat is too heavy and you can get no grip
on the ice. (A blast of the steamer’s
whistle shrills thro’ the fog. It sounds very close to them.)
Oh God, I never thought of that. (He
sits down dejectedly opposite the Business Man.)
MAN—Never thought of what?
The steamer, man, the steamer! Think of the danger she is in. If she
were ever to hit this mass of ice she would sink before they could lower a
MAN—Can’t we do something? We’ll yell to them
when they get nearer.
my God, man, don’t do that. This may be one of the rescue ships come to
pick up the survivors from our boat, and if they heard any shouts they
would think they were cries for help and come right in this direction. Not
a sound if you have any regard for the lives of those on board.
whimpering) But if we don’t let
them know we’re here they are liable to pass by us and never know it.
We can die but we cannot risk the lives of others to save our own. (The
Business Man does not reply to this but a look of sullen stubbornness
comes over his face. There is a long pause. The silence is suddenly
shattered by a deafening blast from the steamer’s whistle.)
She must be right on top of us. (They
both start to their fret and stand straining their eyes to catch some
glimpse of the approaching vessel through the blinding mist. The stillness
is so intense that the throb of the engines can be plainly heard. This
sound slowly recedes and the next whistle indicates by its lack of volume
that the steamer has passed and is proceeding on her way.)
She’s going away. I’m not going to be left here to die on account
of your danm fool ideas. (He
turns in the direction he supposes the steamer to be and raises his hands
to his mouth, shaping them like a megaphone.)
over and forcing his hand over the Business Man’s mouth in time to
stifle his call for help)
You damned coward! I might have known what to expect. (The
Business Man struggles to free himself rocking the boat from side to side
with his futile twistings, but he is finally forced down to a sitting
position on the thwart. The Poet then releases him. He opens his mouth as
if’ to shout but the Poet stands over him with his right fist drawn back
threateningly and the Business Man thinks better of it.)
I’ll get even with you, you loafer, if we ever get on shore. (The
Poet pays no attention to this threat but sits down opposite him. They
hear the whistle again, seemingly no farther away than before. The
Business Man stirs uneasily. A rending, tearing crash cracks through the
silence, followed a moment later by a tremendous splash. Great drops of
waterfall in the rocking boat.)
She must have hit it after all.
That can’t be it. I don’t hear any shouts. (suddenly
smiling with relief as he guesses what has happened) I know what it is.
The berg is melting and breaking up. That was a piece that fell in the
MAN—It almost landed on us. (He
becomes panic-stricken at this thought and jumps to his fret.)
I’m not going to stand this any longer. We’ll be crushed like
flies. I’ll take a chance and swim for it. You can stay here and be
killed if you want to. (Insane with fear of this
new menace he puts one foot on the gunwale of the boat and is about to
throw himself into the water when the Poet grabs him by the arm and pulls
Let me go! This is all right for you. You want to die. Do you want to
kill me too, you murderer? (He
hides his face in his hands and weeps like a fat child in a fit of temper.)
fool! You could not swim for five minutes in this icy water. (more
kindly) Come! Be sensible!
Act like a man! (The
Business Man shakes with a combination of sigh and sob. The whistle blows
again and seems once more to be in their immediate vicinity. The Business
Man takes a new lease on life at this favorable sign and raises his head.)
MAN—She seems to be getting quite near us again.
and a moment ago I heard something like oars creaking in the oar-locks and
striking the water.
MAN—(hopefully) Maybe they’ve
lowered a boat. (Even
as he is speaking the curtain of fog suddenly lifts. The sun has just
risen over the horizon rim and the berg behind them, its surface carved
and fretted by the streams of water from the melting ice, its whiteness
vivid above the blue-gray water, seems like the facade of some huge Viking
and the Business Man, their backs turned to the berg, are looking at
something over the water as if they could hardly believe their good
There’s the steamer now and she can hardly be more than a quarter of
a mile away. What luck!
MAN—And there’s the boat you heard. Look! They
were rowing straight towards us.
to himself with a puzzled expression)
I wonder how they knew we were here.
A VOICE FROM
OVER THE WATER—Hello
creak of the oars can be clearly heard) Are you people off the “Starland?”
the return of his courage he has regained all his self-assured urbanity.
He tries to pull his clothes into some semblance of their former
immaculateness, and his round face with its imposing double chin assumes
an expression of importance. The Poet’s face is drawn and melancholy as
if he were uncertain of the outcome of this unexpected return to life.)
to the Poet with a smile)
You see my optimism was justified after all. (growing confused before
the Poet’s steady glance)
I wish you’d—er—forget all about the little unpleasantness
between us. I must confess I was a bit—er—rattled and didn’t exactly
know what I was doing. (He
holds out his hand uncertainly. The Poet takes it with a quiet smile.)
I had forgotten all about it.
MAN—Thank you. (The voice that hailed them
is heard giving some orders. The sound of the oars ceases and a moment
later a life-boat similar to the one they are in but manned by a full crew
of sailors comes along side of them. A young man in unit form, evidently
the third officer of the ship, is in the stern steering.)
Hello! You certainly are a welcome sight.
up at the towering side of the berg)
You picked out a funny island to land on. What made you cling so close
to this berg? Cold, wasn’t it?
drifted into it in the fog and having no oars could not get away. It was
about the same time we first heard your whistle.
toward the woman’s figure)
has been asleep, poor woman.
her arms. (then
wonderingly) But how did you
never have found you but for that. Why
didn’t you give us a shout or make some kind of a racket?
We were afraid you would come in our direction and hit this ice-berg.
we might have passed you and never had an inkling—
MAN—(impressively) In a case of that
kind one has to take chances. (The
Poet smiles quietly. The Officer looks surprised.)
was very fine of you I must say. Most people would only have thought of
themselves. As it was, if it hadn’t been for the kid crying we would
have missed you. I was on the bridge with the first officer. We had been
warned about this berg and when the fog came up we slowed down until we
were barely creeping, and stopped altogether every now and then. It was
during one of these stops when everything was still, we heard the crying
and I said to the first officer: “Sounds like a kid balling, doesn’t
it?” and he thought it did too. It kept getting plainer and plainer
until there was no chance for a mistake—weird too it sounded with
everything so quiet and the fog so heavy—I said to him again: “It’s
a kid sure enough, but how in the devil did it get out here?” And then
we both remembered we had been ordered to keep a lookout for any of the
survivors of the “Starland” who hadn’t been picked up yet, and the
first officer said: “It’s probably some of the poor devils from the
Starland” and told me to have a boat lowered. I grabbed a compass and
jumped in. We could hear the kid crying all the time, couldn’t we, boys?
turns to the crew who all answer:
“Yes sir.”) That’s how I was able to shape such a direct course
for you. I was steering by the sound. It stopped just as the fog rose. (During
the Officer’s story the Business Man has been looking at him with an
expression of annoyed stupefaction on his face. He is unable to decide
whether the Officer is fooling or not and turns to the Poet for
enlightenment. But the latter, after listening to the Officer’s
explanation with intense interest, goes quickly to the side of the woman
and, removing his ulster from over her shoulders, attempts to awaken her.)
what he is doing)
That’s right. Better wake her up. The steamer will be ready to pick
us up in a minute, and she must be stiff with the cold. (He turns to one of his crew.)
Make a line fast to this boat and we’ll tow her back to the ship. (The
sailor springs into the “Starland’s” boat with a coil of rope in his
to awaken the woman he feels for her pulse and then bends down to listen
for a heart beat, his ear against her breast. He straightens up finally
and stands looking down at the two bodies and speaks to himself half
aloud.) Poor happy
Officer and the Business Man are watching him.)
THE OFFICER—(sharply) Well?
The woman is dead.
MAN—Dead! (He casts a horrified
glance at the still figures in the end of the boat—then clambers
clumsily into the other boat and stands beside the Officer.)
bad! But the child is all right, of course?
child has been dead for twenty-four hours. He died at dawn yesterday. (It
is the Officer’s turn to be bewildered. He stares at the Poet pityingly
and then turns to the Business Man.)
the Poet with a nod of his head)
A bit out of his head, isn’t he? Exposure affects a lot of them that
He told you the exact truth of the matter.
he has two madmen to deal with instead of one) Of course. (to
the sailor who has made fast the towing rope) All fast? (The
sailor jumps into his own boat with a brisk: “Aye, Aye sir.”) (The
Officer turns to the Poet.)
Coming in here or going to stay where you are?
I think I will stay with the dead. (He
is sitting apposite the two rigid figures looking at their still white
faces with eyes full of a great longing.)
Cheerful beggar! (He
faces the crew.)
Give way all. (The oars take the water
and the two boats glide swiftly away from the ice berg.)
(The fresh morning breeze
ripples over the water bringing back to the attentive ear some words of
the Man of Business spoken argumentatively, but in the decided accents
of one who is rarely acknowledged to be wrong.)
—the exact truth. So you see that,
if you will pardon my saying so, Officer, what you have just finished
telling us is almost unbelievable.