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CHARACTERS A POET
A MAN OF BUSINESS
A POLISH PEASANT WOMAN
A DEAD CHILD
THE THIRD OFFICER OF A STEAMER
S
AILORS FROM THE STEAMER

Time—The Present

  SCENEThe 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.

  Three 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 distinguished.

  Day 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?

  ANOTHER MAN’S VOICE—(more refined than the first, clear and unobtrusively melancholy) No, I’m not asleep.

  FIRST VOICE—(complacently reassured) 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.

  SECOND VOICE—You are fortunate to be able to sleep. I wish I could go to sleep and forget—all this—

  FIRST VOICE—Oh 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?

  SECOND VOICE—I believe so.

  FIRST VOICE—Well, 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.

  SECOND VOICE—In this fog?

  FIRST VOICE—Oh 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.

  SECOND VOICE—You forget we are now near the Grand Banks, the home of fog.

  FIRST VOICE—(with 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.

  SECOND VOICE—I 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 comes.

  FIRST VOICE—I suppose you’re right but I can’t help being optimistic.

  SECOND VOICE—You 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.

  FIRST VOICE—You’re forgetting the fact that there was no sun yesterday. That kind of weather can’t last forever.

  SECOND VOICE—(dryly) Perhaps we could not see the sun on account of the fog.

  FIRST VOICE(after a pause) I’ll admit I did feel pretty dismal yesterday—after that terrible thing happened.

  SECOND VOICE—(softly) You mean after the child died?

  FIRST VOICE—(gloomily) Yes. I thought that woman would never stop crying. Ugh! It was awful—her cries, and the fog, and not another sound anywhere.

  SECOND VOICE—It was the most horrible thing I have ever seen or even heard of. I never dreamed anything could be so full of tragedy.

  FIRST VOICE—It 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.

  SECOND VOICE—(after a long pause) So you think the child’s death was a terrible thing?

  FIRST VOICE—(in astonishment) Of course. Why? Don’t you?

  SECOND VOICE—No.

  FIRST VOICE—But you said just a minute ago that—

  SECOND VOICE—I 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.

  FIRST VOICE—I 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.

  SECOND VOICE—What 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?

  FIRST VOICE—Well, no, of course not, but—

  SECOND VOICEIf 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?

  FIRST VOICE—(doubtfully) Perhaps not, looking at it from that standpoint.

  SECOND VOICE—There 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.

  FIRST VOICE—You mean?

  SECOND VOICEI mean poverty—the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases.

  FIRST VOICE—(amused) 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 reformer.

  SECOND VOICE—Oh no. But there are times when the frightful injustice of it all sickens me with life in general.

  FIRST VOICE—I find life pretty good. I don’t know as I’d change it even if I could.

  SECOND VOICE—Spoken like a successful man. For I’m sure you are a successful man, are you not? I mean in a worldly way.

  FIRST VOICE—(flattered) 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.

  SECOND VOICE—You had some advantages, did you not? Education and plenty to eat, and a clean home, and so forth?

  FIRST VOICE—I 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?

  SECOND VOICE—Do 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?

  FIRST VOICE—(impatiently) 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.

  SECOND VOICE—But supposing you are responsible?

  FIRST VOICE—What!

  SECOND VOICE—I 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?

  FIRST VOICE—(in 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.

  FIRST VOICE—(blankly) 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 DARK MAN—(he of 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!

  THE OTHER MAN—Yes, a little sleep will do her a world of good.

  THE DARK 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—

  THE OTHER MAN—(exultingly) 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.

  THE DARK MAN—Now if this fog would only lift—

  THE OTHER MAN—It’s going to lift. You wait and see. You’ll find my optimism is justified. But what was it you started to say?

  THE DARK MAN—I was saying that I supposed you had never seen this woman on board.

  THE OTHER 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 me. (He 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, isn’t it?

  THE DARK MAN—It’s not so bad. I spent quite a good deal of my time down there.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(for he of the jowly, fat face and the bald spot is such by his own confession) (chuckling) In your role of reformer?

  THE DARK 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Do you mind my asking what particular line you are in?

  THE DARK MAN—I am a writer.

  THE BUSINESS 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.

  THE DARK MAN—I’m not a Socialist—especially—just a humanist, that is all.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—What particular kind of writing do you do?

  THE DARK MAN—I write poetry.

  THE BUSINESS MAN(in 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?

  THE POET—No.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(after a long pause) 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?

  THE POET—No. 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 die.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(his 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 in disgust.) 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—

  THE POET—It 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?

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Hardly. But what has that to do—

  THE POET—Listen 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN— (forgetting to eat in his amazement) You mean to say you were going to commit—

  THE POET—I 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(edges 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.

  THE POET—I 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—That’s the way to talk! Superstition is a good thing sometimes.

  THE POET—But 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 gone myself.

  THE BUSINESS 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.

  THE POET—The 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(peering 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN(looks 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 stand that.

  THE POET—She does not understand English.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(shaking 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.

  THE POET—Have you ever lost any of your children?

  THE BUSINESS MAN—No. Thank God!

  THE POET—You may well thank God, even if people do, as you claimed a while ago, forget so easily.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—You’re not married, are you?

  THE POET—No.

  THE BUSINESS 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?

  THE POET(does not hear or will not notice this question. He is staring through the fog and speaks in excited tones.) Did you hear that?

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Hear what?

  THE POET—Just now when you were talking. I thought I heard a sound like a steamer’s whistle. (They both listen intently. After a second or so the sound comes again, faint and far­off wailing over the water.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(wildly elated) By God, it is a steamer!

  THE POET—It sounded nearer that time. She must be coming this way.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Oh, if only this rotten fog would lift for a minute!

  THE POET—Let’s 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 this.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(nervously) Can’t we yell or make some kind of a noise?

  THE POET—They 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?

  THE BUSINESS 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.

  THE POET—Sssh! Do you hear that?

  THE BUSINESS MAN—What? The whistle? I heard it a moment ago.

  THE POET—No. 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.)

  THE BUSINESS 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!

  THE POET—That 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.)

  THE BUSINESS 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 nearer.)

  THE POET(still bent over the sleeping woman) Perhaps it may be land but I hardly think we could have drifted that far.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(in terrified tones) 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.)

  THE POET(looking 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(reassured 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 remarks sarcastically) As it is we’ll only freeze to death. Is that what you mean?

  THE POET—(thumping 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Ouch! My hands are freezing.

  THE POET—No 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Never thought of what?

  THE POET—(excitedly) 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 boat.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Can’t we do something? We’ll yell to them when they get nearer.

  THE POET—Oh 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.

  THE BUSINESS MAN(almost whimpering) But if we don’t let them know we’re here they are liable to pass by us and never know it.

  THE POET—(sternly) 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.)

  THE POET—God! 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(furiously) 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.)

  THE POET—(jumping 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(snarling) 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(trembling with terror) She must have hit it after all.

  THE POET—No. 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 water.

  THE BUSINESS 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 him back.) 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.)

  THE POET—You 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—She seems to be getting quite near us again.

  THE POET—Yes, and a moment ago I heard something like oars creaking in the oar-locks and striking the water.

  THE BUSINESS 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 temple.)

  THE POET(He 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 fortune.) There’s the steamer now and she can hardly be more than a quarter of a mile away. What luck!

  THE BUSINESS MAN—And there’s the boat you heard. Look! They were rowing straight towards us.

  THE POET(half to himself with a puzzled expression) I wonder how they knew we were here.

  A VOICE FROM OVER THE WATER—Hello there!

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(waving frantically) Hello!

  THE VOICE(nearer—the creak of the oars can be clearly heard) Are you people off the “Starland?”

  THE BUSINESS MAN—Yes. (With 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN(turning 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.)

  THE POET—(simply) I had forgotten all about it.

  THE BUSINESS 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.)

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(breezily) Hello! You certainly are a welcome sight.

  THE OFFICER—(looking 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?

  THE POET—We 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.

  THE OFFICER—(nodding toward the woman’s figure) Woman sick?

  THE POET—She has been asleep, poor woman.

  THE OFFICER—Where’s the kid?

  THE POET—In her arms. (then wonderingly) But how did you know?—

  THE OFFICER—We’d never have found you but for that. Why didn’t you give us a shout or make some kind of a racket?

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(eagerly) We were afraid you would come in our direction and hit this ice-berg.

  THE OFFICER—But we might have passed you and never had an inkling—

  THE BUSINESS MAN(impressively) In a case of that kind one has to take chances. (The Poet smiles quietly. The Officer looks surprised.)

  THE OFFICER—That 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? (He 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.)

  THE OFFICER—(noticing 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 hand.)

  THE POET(Failing 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 woman. (The Officer and the Business Man are watching him.)

  THE OFFICER(sharply) Well?

  THE POET— (softly) The woman is dead.

  THE BUSINESS 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.)

  THE OFFICER—Too bad! But the child is all right, of course?

  THE POET—The 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 OFFICER(indicating the Poet with a nod of his head) A bit out of his head, isn’t he? Exposure affects a lot of them that way.

  THE BUSINESS MAN—(solemnly) He told you the exact truth of the matter.

  THE OFFICER—(concluding 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?

  THE POET—(gently) 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.)

  THE OFFICER—(mutters) 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.

(Curtain)


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