The Valiant - Lee Wilson from Holworthy Hall and Robert Middlemass

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

The Valiant









We hear the start of a letter in darkness. "Dear Warden Holt, my name is Marjorie Atkinson and I am writing in great interest of your prisoner, James Dyke." The letter continues as we hear another letter start; "Dear Warden Holt" etc. Several voices and letters start and overlap in a crescendo as the lights slowly rise on the stage. As the lights get to full and the letters are almost at an uncomfortable volume; we hear a large thunder clap that cuts off the letters immediately. The thunderclap has an eerie resemblance to the sound of the gallows. A light rain is heard fading up.
The WARDEN’s office in the State’s Prison at Wethersfield, Connecticut. It is a large, cold, unfriendly room, with bare floors and staring, whitewashed walls; it is furnished only with the WARDEN’s flat-topped desk, and swivel chair, with a few straight-backed chairs, one beside the desk and others against the walls, with a water-cooler and an eight-day clock. On the WARDEN’s desk are a telephone instrument, a row of electric push buttons, and a bundle of forty or fifty letters. At the back of the room are two large windows, crossed with heavy bars; at the left there is a door to an anteroom, and at the right there are two doors, of which the more distant leads to the office of the deputy warden, and the nearer is seldom used. This seldom used door will be used tonight.

WARDEN HOLT, dressed in a dark-brown sack suit, with a negligee shirt and black string tie, carelessly knotted in a bow, is seated at his desk, reflectively smoking a long, thin cigar. He is verging toward sixty, and his responsibilities have printed themselves in italics upon his countenance. His bearing indicates that he is accustomed to rank as a despot, and yet his expression is far from that of an unreasoning tyrant. He is no sentimentalist, but he believes that in each of us there is a constant oscillation of good and evil; and that all evil should be justly punished in this world, and that all good should be generously rewarded – in the next.

Behind the WARDEN, the prison chaplain stands at one of the barred windows, gazing steadily out into the night. FATHER DALY is a slender, white-haired priest of somewhat more then middle age; he is dressed in slightly shabby clericals. His face is calm, intellectual, and inspiring; but just at this moment, it gives evidence of a peculiar depression.

The WARDEN blows a cloud of smoke to the ceiling, inspects the cigar critically, drums on the desk, and finally peers over his shoulder at the chaplain. He clears his throat and speaks brusquely.

THE WARDEN: Has it started to rain?

FATHER DALY: (answers without turning) Yes. It has.

THE WARDEN: (impatiently tossing his cigar aside) It would rain tonight.

FATHER DALY: It’s past eleven o’clock. (Breath) We haven’t much longer to wait.


THE WARDEN: No, thank God! (Moves towards water cooler for a drink; with the glass halfway to his lips he pauses) Was he quiet when you left him?

FATHER DALY: Yes…yes, he was perfectly calm. I believe he’ll stay that way to the very end.

THE WARDEN: (moves back to his seat and lights another cigar) Well, you’ve got to hand it to him, father; I never saw such nerve in all my life. It isn’t a bluff, and it isn’t a trance, either, like some of ‘ em have – its plain nerve.

FATHER DALY: That’s the pity of it – that a man with all this courage hasn’t a better use for it. Even now, it’s very difficult for me to reconcile his character, as I see it, with what we know he’s done.

THE WARDEN: He’s got my goat, all right.

FATHER DALY: Yes, and he’s got mine, too.

THE WARDEN: When he sent for you tonight, I was hoping he was finally going to talk.

FATHER DALY: He did talk, very freely.

THE WARDEN: What about?

FATHER DALY: Most everything.

THE WARDEN: Himself?

FATHER DALY: No. That seems to be the only subject he isn’t interested in.

THE WARDEN: He still won’t give you any hint about who he really is?

FATHER DALY: Nope. He doesn’t intend to, either. He intends to die as a man of mystery to us. Sometimes I wonder if he isn’t just as much of a mystery to himself.

THE WARDEN: Oh, he’s trying to shield somebody, that’s all. James Dyke is not his real name – we know that; and we know all the rest of his story is a fake, too. But, what’s his motive? I’ll tell you where it is. It’s to keep his family and his friends, wherever they are, from knowing what’s happened to him. Lots of ‘em have the same idea, but I never knew one to carry it as far as this, before. You’ve certainly got to hand it to him. All we know is that we’ve got a man under sentence; and we don’t know who he is, or where he comes from, or anything else about him, any more than we did four months ago.


FATHER DALY: It takes moral courage for a man to shut himself away from his family and his friends like that. They would have comforted him.

THE WARDEN: Not necessarily. What time is it?

FATHER DALY: Half-past eleven.

THE WARDEN: (walks over to peer out one of the barred windows) Well, it's official, I’m finally getting to old for this sort of thing. A necktie party didn’t use to bother me so much; but every time one comes along nowadays, I’ve got the blue devils beforehand and afterward. I think I’ve just about had it.

FATHER DALY: It certainly isn’t a pleasant responsibility. Even with the worst of them.

THE WARDEN: But what gets me is why I should hate this one more than any of the others. The boy is guilty as hell.

FATHER DALY: Yes, he killed a man. Wilfully. Deliberately. With malice.

THE WARDEN: And he pleaded guilty. He deserves just what he’s going to get.

FATHER DALY: That is the law. Has it ever occurred to you, Warden, that every now and then when a criminal behaves in a rather gentlemanly fashion to us, we instinctively think of him as just a little less of a criminal?

THE WARDEN: Yes, it has. This front of his bothers the hell out of me. Jesus! Sorry, Father. He pleaded guilty all right, but he doesn’t act guilty. I feel as if tonight I was going to do something every bit as criminal as he did. I am always certain in these circumstances. For the first time I am not. And when I am not certain, it is time for my resignation.

FATHER DALY: His attitude has been very remarkable. He reminds me of a Christian martyr being carried to his death, and yet –

THE WARDEN: He’s no martyr.

FATHER DALY: I know it. And he’s anything in the world but a Christian. That was exactly what I was going to say.

THE WARDEN: Has he any religious streak in him at all?

FATHER DALY: I’m afraid not. He listens to me very attentively, but – It’s only because I offer him companionship. Anybody else would do quite as well – and any other topic would suit him better.


THE WARDEN: Well, if he wants to face God as a heathen, we can’t force him to change his mind.

FATHER DALY: No, but we can never give up trying to save his immortal soul. And his soul tonight seems as dark and foreboding to me as a haunted house would seem to the small boys down in Wethersfield. But I haven’t given up hope.

THE WARDEN: No – you wouldn’t.

FATHER DALY: Are you going to talk with him again yourself?

THE WARDEN: (opens up his desk drawer and brings out a large envelope) I’ll have to. I’ve still got these Liberty bonds that belong to him. Funny thing – when the newspaper syndicate offered him twenty-five hundred for his autobiography, he jumped at it so quick I was sure he wanted the money for something or other. But now the bonds are here, waiting for him, he won’t say what to do with ‘em. Know why? Why, of course you do! Because the story he wrote was pure bunk from start to finish and the only reason he jumped at the chance of writing it was so’s he could pull the wool over everybody’s head a little further. He didn’t want the bonds, but I’ve got to do something with ‘em. (Pushes a button on the desk) And besides, I want to make one more try at finding out who he is.

FATHER DALY: Shall I go with you to see him, or do you want to see him alone?

THE WARDEN: Father, you gave me a thought – I am going to do something that I have never done before. I am going to bring that boy in here with you and me until the time comes for us all to walk through that door to the execution room.

FATHER DALY: What’s the point of that?

THE WARDEN: Because maybe if he sits here awhile with just you and me, and we go at him right, he’ll loosen up and tell us about himself. It’ll be different from being in his cell; it’ll be sort of free and easy, and maybe he’ll weaken. And then, besides, if we take him to the scaffold through this passageway, maybe I can keep the others quiet. If they don’t know when the job’s being done, they may behave themselves. I don’t want any such yelling and screeching tonight as we had with that Greek. (WILSON, A JAILER enters from the deputy’s room and stands waiting) Wilson, I want you to get Dyke and bring him to me here. Just do what I say, please.

WILSON: Yes, sir. (Goes to leave)

THE WARDEN: Oh, Wilson!

WILSON: Yes, sir? They’ll be all set in ten or fifteen minutes, sir. Twenty minutes max.


THE WARDEN: Now, I don’t want any hitch or delay in this thing tonight. Understand?

WILSON: There won’t be any, sir.

THE WARDEN: When everything’s ready – not a second before – you let me know.

WILSON: Yes, sir.

THE WARDEN: I’ll be right here with Dyke and Father Daly.


THE WARDEN: Yes. Here.

WILSON: Yes, sir.

THE WARDEN: When everything and everybody is ready, you come from the execution room through the passage – (he gestures toward the nearer door on the right) open that door quietly and stand there.

WILSON: Yes, sir.

THE WARDEN: You don’t have to say anything, and I don’t want you to say anything. Just stand there. That all clear?

WILSON: Yes, sir.

THE WARDEN: That’ll be the signal for us to start-understand?

WILSON: Yes, sir.

THE WARDEN: All right. Now bring Dyke to me.

WILSON: Yes, sir.

FATHER DALY: What about the witnesses and the reporters?

THE WARDEN: They’re having their sandwiches and coffee now – the deputy’ll have’em seated in another ten or fifteen minutes. Let ‘em wait. I’d like to poison the lot of ‘em. Reporters! Witnesses! (The telephone bell rings) Hello-yes-yes-what’s that? -Yes, yes, right here-who wants him? Father, it’s the Governor!


FATHER DALY: What! Why is he - Is it about Dyke?

THE WARDEN: Sshh. Yes, this is Warden Holt speaking. Hello-oh, hello, Governor Fuller, how are you? Oh, I’m, well this isn’t my idea of a picnic exactly-yes-yes-Oh, I should say in about half an hour or so-everything’s just about ready. Oh, no, there won’t be any slip-up - yes, we made the regular tests, one this afternoon and another at nine o’clock tonight – Oh, no, Governor, nothing can go wrong – Well, according to the law I’ve got to get it done as soon as possible after midnight, but you’re the Governor of the state - How long? – Certainly, Governor, I can hold it off as long as you want me to – A Girl! You’re going to send her to me? – You have sent her! – She should be here anytime. All right, Governor, I’ll ring you up when it’s over. Good-bye. (He hangs up the receiver, mops his forehead with his handkerchief, and turns to FATHER DALY)

Did you get that? Some girl thinks Dyke’s her long-lost brother, and she’s persuaded the old man to let her come out here to-night – he wants me to hold up the job until she’s had a chance to see him. She’s due here any minute, he says – in his own car – escorted by his own private secretary! Can you beat it?

FATHER DALY: Poor girl!

THE WARDEN: For a minute there I thought it was going to be a reprieve at the very least.


The door from the deputy’s room is opened, and DYKE comes in, followed immediately by WILSON the JAILER. DYKE halts just inside the door and waits passively to be told what to do next. He has a lean, pale face, good eyes, and a strong chin; his mouth is ruled in a firm straight line. His wavy hair is prematurely grey. His figure has the elasticity of youth, but he might pass among strangers either as a man of forty, or as a man of twenty-five, depending upon the mobility of his features at a given moment. He is dressed in a dark shirt open at the throat, dark trousers without belt or suspenders, and soft slippers. WILSON receives a nod from the WARDEN, and goes out promptly, closing the door behind him.

THE WARDEN: (swings half-way around in his swivel-chair). Sit down, Dyke.

DYKE: Thanks.

THE WARDEN: Dyke, you’ve been here under my charge for nearly four months, and I want to tell you that from the first to last you’ve behaved yourself like a true gentleman.

DYKE: Why should I make you any trouble?


THE WARDEN: Well, you haven’t made me any trouble, and I’ve tried to show what I think about it. I’ve made you every bit as comfortable as the law would let me.

DYKE: You’ve been very kind to me. (He glances over his shoulder at the chaplain) And you, too, Father.

THE WARDEN: I’ve had you brought in here to stay from now on. No, you won’t have to go back to your cell again. You’re to stay right here with Father Daly and me.

DYKE: All right.

THE WARDEN: You don’t seem to understand that I’m doing something a long way out of the ordinary for you.

DYKE: Oh, yes, I do, but maybe you don’t understand why it doesn’t give me much of a thrill.

FATHER DALY: My son, the Warden is only trying to do you one more kindness.

DYKE: I know he is, Father, but the Warden isn’t taking very much of a gamble. From now on, one place is about the same as another.

THE WARDEN: What do you mean?

DYKE: (faintly sarcastic). Why, I mean that I’m just as much a condemned prisoner here as when I was in my cell? That door leads right back to my cell. Outside those windows are armed guards every few feet. You yourself can’t get through the iron door in that anteroom (he indicates the door to the left) until somebody on the outside unlocks it; and I know as well as you do where that door leads to.

THE WARDEN: (stiffly). Would you rather wait in your cell?

DYKE: Oh, no, this is a little pleasanter. Except –

THE WARDEN: Except what?

DYKE: In my cell, I could smoke.

THE WARDEN: What do you want – cigar or cigarette?

DYKE: A cigarette if it’s all the same.


The WARDEN opens a drawer of his desk, takes out a box of cigarettes, removes one and hands it to DYKE. The WARDEN striking a match, lights DYKE’s cigarette, and then carefully puts out the match.

DYKE: Thanks. You’re a good host.

THE WARDEN: Dyke, before it’s too late I wish you’d think over what Father Daly and I’ve said to you so many times.

DYKE: I’ve thought of nothing else.

THE WARDEN: Then – as man to man – and this is your last chance – who are you?

DYKE: (inspecting his cigarette). Who am I? James Dyke – a murderer.

THE WARDEN: That isn’t your real name, and we know it.

DYKE: You’re not going to execute a name – you’re going to execute a man. What difference does it make whether you call me Dyke or something else?

THE WARDEN: You had another name once. What was it?

DYKE: If I had, I’ve forgotten it.

FATHER DALY: Your mind is made up then, my son?

DYKE: Yes, Father, it is.


DYKE: Yes, sir?

THE WARDEN: (fingers them). Every one of these letters is about the same thing and all put together we’ve got maybe four thousand of ‘em. These here are just a few samples.

DYKE: What about them?

THE WARDEN: We’ve had letters from every State in the Union and every province in Canada. We’ve had fifteen or twenty from England, four or five from France, two from Australia and one from Russia.

DYKE: Well?


THE WARDEN: Do you know what every one of those letters says – what four thousand different people are writing to me about?

DYKE: No, sir.

THE WARDEN: (speaks slowly and impressively). Who are you – and are you the missing son – or brother – or husband – or sweetheart?

DYKE: (flicks his cigarette ashes to the floor). Have you answered them?

THE WARDEN: No, I couldn’t. I want you to.

DYKE: How’s that?

THE WARDEN: I want you to tell me who you are. Can’t you see you ought to do it?

DYKE: No, sir, I can’t exactly see that. Suppose you explain it to me.

THE WARDEN: (suddenly). You’re trying to shield somebody aren’t you?

DYKE: No. I’m not.

THE WARDEN: Who is it? Your family?

DYKE: I said I’m not.

THE WARDEN: Dyke, just listen to me a minute. Don’t be narrow; look at this thing in a big, broad way. Suppose you should tell me your real name, and I publish it, it’ll bring an awful lot of sorrow, let’s say, to one family, one home, and that’s your own. That’s probably what you’re thinking about. Am I right? You want to spare your family and I don’t blame you. On the surface, it sure would look like a mighty white thing for you to do. But look at it this way: suppose you came out with the truth, flat-footed, why, you might put all that sorrow into one home – your own – but at the same time you’d be putting an immense amount of relief in four thousand others. Don’t you get that? Don’t you figure you owe something to all these people?

DYKE: Not a thing.

FATHER DALY: My boy, the Warden is absolutely right. You do owe something to the other people – you owe them peace of mind – and for the sake of all those thousands of poor, distressed women, who imagine God knows what, I beg of you to tell us who you are.


DYKE: Father, I simply can’t do it.

FATHER DALY: Think carefully, my boy, think very carefully. We’re not asking out of idle curiosity.

DYKE: I know that, but please don’t let’s talk about it any more. (To the WARDEN) You can answer those letters whenever you want to, and you can say I’m not the man they’re looking for. That’ll be the truth, too. Because I haven’t any mother – or father – or sister – or wife – or sweetheart. That’s fair enough, isn’t it?

FATHER DALY: As you will, my son.

THE WARDEN: Dyke, there’s one more thing.

DYKE: Yes?

THE WARDEN: Here are the Liberty Bonds that belong to you. Twenty-five hundred dollars in real money.

DYKE: (removes the bonds and examines them) Good-looking, aren’t they?

THE WARDEN: What do you want me to do with them?

DYKE: Well, I can’t very well take them with me, so, under the circumstances, I’d like to put them where they’ll do the most good.

THE WARDEN: Who do you want me to send ‘em to?

DYKE: Now, Warden Holt, you didn’t think you were going to catch me that way, did you?

THE WARDEN: Who’ll I send ‘em to? I can’t keep ‘em here, and I can’t destroy ‘em. What do you want to do with ‘em?

DYKE: (tosses envelopes on desk) I don’t know. I’ll think of something to do with them. I’ll tell you in just a minute. Is there anything else?

THE WARDEN: Not unless you want to make some sort of statement.

DYKE: No, I guess I’ve said everything. I killed a man and I’m not sorry for it – that is, I’m not sorry I killed that particular person. I –

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