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The Hour of Truth (Play)

Here is a play which describes a situation where the honesty and uprightness of the protagonist is put to a crucial test. He is compelled by his family members to compromise on his ethical principles. Let’s find out how he is saved from that crisis.

Supplementary

The Hour of Truth (Play)

by Percival Wilde


Here is a play which describes a situation where the honesty and uprightness of the protagonist is put to a crucial test. He is compelled by his family members to compromise on his ethical principles. Let’s find out how he is saved from that crisis.


CHARACTERS:

ROBERT BALDWIN

MARTHA

JOHN

EVIE

Mr. MARSHALL

It is rather a hot and sultry Sunday afternoon, and the sun overhead and the baked clay under foot are merciless. In the distance, lowering clouds give promise of coming relief. And at the parlour window of a trim little cottage the Baldwin family is anxiously awaiting the return of its head.

John, Baldwin’s son, an average young man of twenty-seven, is smoking a pipe as philosophically as if this day were no whit more momentous than any other. But Martha, his mother, has made little progress in the last half-hour; and Evie, Baldwin’s daughter, takes no pains to conceal her nervousness.There is a tense pause. It seems as if none of them likes to break the silence. For the tenth time in ten minutes, Evie goes to the window and looks along the sultry road.

THE SCENE : At Baldwin’s

MARTHA: It’s time he was home.

EVIE: Yes, mother.

MARTHA: I do hope he hasn’t forgotten his umbrella; he has such a habit of leaving it behind him.

EVIE: Yes, Mother.

MARTHA: It might rain. Don’t you think so, Evie?

EVIE: (after a pause) Mother (There is no answer.) Mother! [Mrs. Baldwin turns slowly ] What does Mr. Gresham want with him? Has he done anything wrong?

MARTHA: (proudly) Your father? No, Evie.

EVIE: Then why did Mr. Gresham send for him?

Let’s understand better:

Martha and Evie hear that Gresham had been arrested on suspicion of committing a fraud in his bank. They are angry and shocked at the news.


MARTHA: He wanted to talk to him.

EVIE: What about? Mr. Gresham has been arrested; they’re going to try him tomorrow. What can he want with Father?

MARTHA: Your father will have to give evidence.

EVIE: But he’s going to give evidence against Mr. Gresham. Why should Mr. Gresham want to see him?

MARTHA: I don’t know, Evie, you know, your father doesn’t say much about his business affairs. (she pauses) I didn’t know there was anything wrong with the Bank until I saw it in the papers. Your father wouldn’t tell me to draw my money out – he thought it wasn’t loyal to Mr. Gresham. (Evie nods ) I did it of my own accord-against his wishes–when I suspected…

EVIE: (after a pause ) Do you think that Father had anything to do with – with… (she does not like to say it)

MARTHA: With the wrecking of the Bank? You know him better than that, Evie.

EVIE: But did he not know what was going on?

MARTHA: (after a pause) Evie, I don’t believe your father ever did a wrong thing in his life – not if he knew it was wrong. He found out by accident – found out what Mr. Gresham was doing.

EVIE: How do you know that?

MARTHA : I don’t know it. I suspect it – something he said. You see, Evie, he can’t have done anything wrong. They haven’t indicted him.

EVIE: (slowly) No. They didn’t indict him-because they want him to testify against Mr. Gresham. That’s little consolation, Mother.

(John enters)

JOHN: Look here mother, what does Gresham want with the governor?

EVIE: I’ve just been asking that.

MARTHA: I don’t know, John.

JOHN: Didn’t you ask him?

MARTHA: Yes, I asked him. He didn’t say, John (anxiously), I don’t think he knew himself.

JOHN: [after an instant’s thought] I was talking to the assistant cashier yesterday.

EVIE: Donovan?

JOHN: Yes, Donovan, I saw him up at the Athletic Club. He said that nobody had any idea that there was anything wrong until the crash came. Donovan had been there eight years. He thought he was taken care of for the rest of his life. He had got married on the strength of it. And then, one morning, there was a sign up on the door. It was like a bolt out of a clear sky.

Let’s understand better:

After Mr. Gresham’s arrest, Evie and Martha get the news that Donovan, another employee of the bank, has also lost his job.

EVIE: And father?

JOHN: He says the governor must have known. He’ll swear nobody else did. You see, Father was closer to Gresham than anyone else. That puts him in a nice position, doesn’t it?

MARTHA: What do you mean, John?

JOHN: Father is the only witness against John Gresham – and me named after him! John Gresham Baldwin, at your service!

MARTHA: Your father will do his duty, John, no matter what comes of it.

JOHN: (shortly) I know it. And I’m not sure but what is right. (They look at him inquiringly) There’s John Gresham, grown rich in twenty years, and the governor pegging along as his secretary at sixty dollars a week!

MARTHA: Your father never complained.

JOHN: No; that’s just the pity of it. He didn’t complain. Well, he’ll have his chance tomorrow. He’ll go on the stand and when he’s through, they’ll put John Gresham where he won’t be able to hurt anybody for a while. Wasn’t satisfied with underpaying his employees; had to rob his depositors! Serveshim jolly well right!

(There is the click of a latchkey outside. Evie makes for the door.)

JOHN: Hullo, Dad!

BALDWIN: How are you, my boy? (He shakes hands with John.) Evie… (He kisses her.)

JOHN: Well Dad? Don’t you think it’s about time you told us something?

BALDWIN: Told you something? I don’t understand, John.

JOHN: People have been talking about you – saying things –

Let’s understand better:

Another senior member of the bank, Baldwin, father of John and Evie, and husband of Martha, is however believed to be honest.

BALDWIN: What kind of things, John?

JOHN: You can imagine; rotten things. And I couldn’t contradict them.

BALDWIN: Why not, John?

JOHN: Because I didn’t know.

BALDWIN: Did you have to know? Wasn’t it enough that you knew your father?

JOHN: [after a pause] I beg your pardon, Sir.

BALDWIN: It was only a day before the smash-up that I found out what Gresham was doing. (He pauses. They are listening intently.) I told him he would have to make good. He said he couldn’t…

EVIE: And what happened?

BALDWIN: I told him he would have to do the best he could–and the first step would be to close the bank. He didn’t want to do that.

MARTHA: But he did it.

BALDWIN : I made him do it. He was angry–very angry, but I had the whip hand.

EVIE: The papers didn’t mention that.

BALDWIN: I didn’t think it was necessary to tell them.

MARTHA: But you let your name rest under a cloud meanwhile.

BALDWIN: It will be cleared tomorrow, won’t it? (He pauses) Today Gresham sent for me. The trial begins in twenty -four hours. I’m the only witness against him. He asked - you can guess what…

JOHN: ( indignantly) He wanted you lie to save his skin, eh? Wanted you to perjure yourself?

BALDWIN: That wouldn’t be necessary, John. He just wanted me to have an attack of poor memory. If I tell all I know, John Gresham will go to jail–no power on earth can save him from it. But he wants me to forget a little- just the essential things. When they question me I can answer, “I don’t remember”. They can’t prove I do remember. And there you are.

JOHN: It would be a lie, Dad!

BALDWIN : (smiling ) Of course. But it’s done every day. And they couldn’t touch me – any more than they could convict him.

MARTHA: (quivering with indignation) How dared he – how dared he ask such a thing?

EVIE: What did you say, Father?

BALDWIN: (smiling, and raising his eyes to John’s) Well son, what would you have said?

JOHN: I’d have told him to go to the devil.

BALDWIN: I did… but I didn’t use your words, John, he’s too old a friend of mine for that. However, I didn’t mince matters any. He understood what I meant.

EVIE: And what did he say then?

BALDIN: There wasn’t much to say. You see, he wasn’t surprised. He’s known me for thirty–five years. And, well (with simple pride) anybody who’s known me for thirty-five years doesn’t expect me to haggle with my conscience. If it had been anybody else than Gresham, I would have struck him across the face. But John Gresham and I were boys together. We worked side by side. And I’ve been in his employ ever since he started in for himself. He is desperate–he doesn’t know what he is doing–or he wouldn’t have offered me money.

Let’s understand better:

Baldwin is pressurized by Gresham to falsely declare that he does not remember the facts, but Baldwin refuses to do so.

JOHN: (furious) Offered you money, Dad?

BALDWIN: He’d put it aside, ready for the emergency. If they don’t convict him, he’ll hand it over to me. The law can’t stop him. But if I live until tomorrow night, they will convict him! ( He sighs) God knows I want no share in bringing about his punishment. (He breaks off; Evie pats his hand silently.) Young man and old man, I’ve worked with him or for him the best part of my life. I’m loyal to him– I’ve always been loyal to him–but when John Gresham ceases to be an honest man, John Gresham and I part company!

(There is a pause.)

MARTHA: (weeping     softly) Robert! Robert!

BALDWIN : I’ve got only a few years to live, but I’ll live those as I’ve lived the rest of my life. I’ll go to my grave clean!

JOHN: Dad…What did Gresham offer you?

BALDWIN: (simply) A hundred thousand dollars.

EVIE: What!

Let’s understand better:

In order to tempt Baldwin, Gresham offers him a huge bribe of hundred thousand dollars, but Baldwin doesn’t accept it.


MARTHA: Robert!

BALDWIN: He put it aside for me without anybody knowing it. It’s out of his private fortune, he says. It’s not the depositors’ money–as if that made any difference.

EVIE: (as if hypnotized) He offered you a hundred thousand dollars?

BALDWIN: (smiling at her amazement) I could have had it for the one word ‘Yes’ – or even for nodding my head–or a look of the eyes.

JOHN: How-how do you know he meant it?

BALDWIN: His word is good.

JOHN: Even now?

BALDWIN: He never lied to me, John. (He pauses.) I suppose my eyes must have shown something I didn’t feel. He noticed it. He unlocked a drawer and showed me the hundred thousand.

JOHN: In cash?

BALDWIN: In thousand-dollar bills.

They were genuine. I examined them.

EVIE: (slowly )And for that he wants you to say, ‘I don’t remember’.

BALDWIN: Just that: three words only.

JOHN: But you won’t?

BALDWIN: (shaking his head) Those three words would choke me if I tried to speak them. For some other man, perhaps, it would be easy. But for me? All of my past would rise up and strike me in the face. It would mean to the world that for years I had been living a lie: that I was not the honourable man I thought I was. When John Gresham offered the money, I was angry. But when I rejected it, and he showed no surprise, then I was pleased. It was a compliment, don’t you think so?

Let’s understand better:

At this point, Gresham understands that it is impossible to persuade Baldwin to accept the bribe.

JOHN: (slowly) Rather an expensive compliment.

BALDWIN: Eh?

JOHN: A compliment which cost you a hundred thousand dollars.

BALDWIN: A compliment which was worth a hundred thousand dollars. I’ve never had that much money to spend in my life, John, but if I had, I couldn’t imagine a finer way to spend it.

JOHN: (slowly)Yes. I suppose so.

MARTHA : (after a pause) Will the depositors lose much, Robert?

BALDWIN: (emphatically) The depositors will not lose a cent. We were able to save something from the wreck, Gresham and I. It was more than I had expected–almost twice as much–and with what Gresham has it will be enough.

EVIE: Even without the hundred thousand?

(Baldwin does not answer.)

JOHN: (insistently) Without the money that Gresham had put away for you?

BALDWIN: Yes, I didn’t know there was the hundred thousand until today. Gresham didn’t tell me. We reckoned without it.

EVIE: Oh!

JOHN: And you made both ends meet?

BALDWIN: Quite easily. [He smiles] Mr. Marshall is running the reorganization; Mr. Marshall of the Third National. He hasn’t the least idea that it’s going to turn out so well.

(There is a pause.)

Let’s understand better:

John and Evie are tempted by the huge amount of money offered by Gresham. They try to justify Gresham’s act of offering Baldwin a bribe.

JOHN: They’re going to punish Gresham, aren’t they?

BALDWIN: I’m afraid so.

JOHN: What for?

BALDWIN: Misappropriating the funds of the ---

JOHN: (interrupting) Oh, I know that. But what crime has he committed?

BALDWIN: That’s a crime, John.

EVIE: But if nobody loses anything by it?

BALDWIN: It’s a crime nevertheless.

JOHN: And they’re going to punish him for it!

EVIE: (timidly) Would it be such an awful thing, Father, if you let him off?

BALDWIN: (smiling) I wish I could, Evie.

But I’m not the judge.

EVIE: No, but… You’re the only witness against him.

BALDWIN: (nonplussed) Evie!

Let’s understand better:

John says that as he is named after Baldwin’s friend Gresham, he will be put to shame for bearing the name of a criminal.

JOHN: She’s right, Governor.

BALDWIN: You too, John?

JOHN: It’s going to be a nasty mess if they put John Gresham in jail – with your own son named after him! It’s going to be pleasant for me! John Gresham Baldwin!

MARTHA: (after a pause) Robert, I’m not sure I understood what you said before. What did Mr. Gresham want you to do for him?

BALDWIN: Get him off tomorrow.

MARTHA: You could do that?

BALDWIN: Yes.

MARTHA: How?

BALDWIN: By answering ‘I don’t remember’ when they ask me dangerous questions.

MARTHA: Oh! And you do remember?

BALDWIN: Yes, nearly everything.

JOHN:  No matter what they ask you?

BALDWIN: I can always refresh my memory. You see, I have notes.

JOHN: But without those notes you wouldn’t remember?

BALDWIN: What do you mean, John?

JOHN: As a matter of fact, you will have to rely on your notes nearly altogether, won’t you?

BALDWIN: Everybody else does the same thing.

JOHN: Then it won’t be far from the truth if you say, ‘I don’t remember’?

MARTHA: I don’t see that Mr. Gresham is asking so much of you.

BALDWIN: Martha!

MARTHA: Robert! I’m as honourable as you are ...

BALDWIN: That goes without saying, Martha.

MARTHA: It doesn’t seem right to me to send an old friend to jail. Robert, I’ve been thinking. The day John was baptized, when Mr. Gresham stood sponsor for him, how proud we were! And when we came home from the church you said–do you remember what you said Robert?

BALDWIN: No. What was it?

MARTHA: You said, Martha may our son always live up to the name which we have given him! Do you remember that?

Let’s understand better:

Martha, Baldwin’s wife, feels that Baldwin is betraying his dear friend Gresham and thereby causing embarrassment to John.

BALDWIN: Yes – dimly.

JOHN: Ha! Only dimly, Governor?

BALDWIN: What do you mean, John?

MARTHA: (giving John no opportunity to answer) It would be sad – very sad- if the– name of John Gresham, our son’s name, should come to grief through you, Robert.

BALDWIN: Martha, are you telling me to accept the bribe money that John Gresham offered me?

EVIE: Why do you call it bribe money, Father?

BALDWIN: (bitterly) Why indeed? Gresham had a prettier name for it. He said that he had underpaid me all these years. You know, I was getting only sixty dollars a week when the crash came.

JOHN: (impatiently) Yes, yes?

BALDWIN: He said a hundred thousand represented the difference between what he had paid me and what I had actually been worth to him.

MARTHA: That’s no less than true, Robert.

You’ve worked for him very faithfully.

BALDWIN : He said that if he had paid me what he should have, I would have put by more than a hundred thousand by now.

JOHN: That’s so, isn’t it, Dad?

BALDWIN: Who knows? I never asked him to raise my salary. When he raised it, it was of his own accord. (There is a pause. He looks around.) Well, what do you think of it, Evie?

EVIE: (hesitantly) If you go on the stand tomorrow…

Let’s understand better:

Martha also justifies Gresham’s act of offering Baldwin money stating that it is a compensation for his low salary. She starts coercing Baldwin to accept the bribe.

BALDWIN: Yes?

EVIE: – And they put John Gresham in jail, what will people say?

BALDWIN: They will say I have done my duty, Evie, no more and no less.

EVIE: Will they?

BALDWIN: Why, what should they say?

EVIE: I don’t think so. Of course, but other people might say that you had turned traitor to your best friend.

BALDWIN: You don’t, mean that, Evie?

EVIE: When they find out that they haven’t lost any money–when John Gresham tells them that he will pay back every cent–then they won’t want him to go to jail. They’ll feel sorry for him.

BALDWIN: Yes, I believe that. I hope so.

JOHN: And they won’t feel too kindly disposed towards the man who helps put him in jail.

MARTHA: They’ll say you went back on an old friend, Robert.

JOHN : When you pull out your notes in court, to be sure of sending him to jail! (He breaks off with a snort.)

EVIE: And Mr. Gresham hasn’t done anything really wrong.

JOHN: It’s a technicality, that’s what it is. Nobody loses a cent. Nobody wants to see him punished.

EVIE: Except you, Father.

JOHN: Yes, and you’re willing to jail the man after whom you named your son!

MARTHA: I believe in being merciful, Robert.

BALDWIN: Merciful?

MARTHA: Mr. Gresham has always been very good to you. (There is another pause. Curiously enough, they do not seem to be able to meet each other’s eyes.) Ah, well! What are you going to do now, Robert?

BALDWIN: What do you mean?

MARTHA: You have been out of work since the bank closed.

BALDWIN: (shrugging his shoulders) Oh, I’ll find a position.

Let’s understand better:

John accuses Baldwin of betraying his dear friend Gresham. He adds that Baldwin will not get an employment anywhere, as he will be considered a traitor.

MARTHA: (shaking her head) At your age?

BALDWIN: It’s the man that counts.

MARTHA: Yes, you said that a month ago.

JOHN: I heard from Donovan ...

BALDWIN: (quickly)What did you hear?

JOHN: He’s gone with the Third National, you know.

BALDWIN: Yes; he’s helping with the reorganization.

JOHN: They wouldn’t take you on there...

BALDWIN: Their staff was full. They couldn’t very well offer me a position as a clerk.

JOHN: That was what they told you… Mr. Marshall said he wouldn’t employ a man who was just as guilty as John Gresham.

BALDWIN: But I’m not!

JOHN: Who knows it?

BALDWIN: Everybody will, tomorrow!

JOHN: Will they believe you? Or will they think you’re trying to save your own skin?

BALDWIN: I found out only a day before the smash.

JOHN: Who will believe that?

BALDWIN: They will have to!

JOHN: How will you make them? I’m afraid you’ll find that against you wherever you go, Governor. Your testifying against John Gresham won’t make things any better. If you ever get another job, it will be with him! (This is a startling idea to Baldwin, who shows his surprise.) If Gresham doesn’t go to jail, he’ll start in business again, won’t he? And he can’t offer you anything less than a partnership.

BALDWIN: A partnership?

JOHN: (with meaning )With the hundred thousand capital you could put in the business, Dad.

BALDWIN: John!(looks appealingly from one face to another; they are averted then) You – you want me to take this money? (There is no answer.) Say ‘Yes’ one of you. (still no answer ) or ‘No’. (a long pause) I couldn’t go into partnership with Gresham.

MARTHA: (promptly) Why not?

BALDWIN: People wouldn’t trust him.

JOHN: Then you could go into business with someone else. Dad, a hundred thousand is a lot of money.

BALDWIN: (walks to the window. looks out) God knows I never thought this day would come! I know–I know no matter how you try to excuse it – I know that if I take this money I do a dishonourable thing. And you know it! You, and you, and you! All of you! Come, admit it!

JOHN: (resolutely) Nobody’ll ever hear of it.

BALDWIN: But amongst ourselves, John! Whatever we are to the world, let us be honest with each other, the four of us! Well? (His glance travels from John to Evie, whose head is bowed; from her to his wife, who is apparently busy with her knitting. He raises Martha’s head; looks into her eyes. He shudders.) Shams! Liars! Hypocrites! Thieves! And I no better than any of you! We have seen our souls naked, and they stink to Almighty Heaven! Well, why don’t you answer me?

Let’s understand better:

Baldwin grows ashamed of the greed of his family. John has the courage to look at him straight in the eye. He compels Baldwin to accept the money offered by Gresham.

MARTHA: (feebly) It’s not wrong, Robert.

BALDWIN: It’s not right.

JOHN: (facing him steadily) A hundred thousand is a lot of money, Dad.

BALDWIN: (nodding slowly)You can look into my eyes now, my son, can’t you?

JOHN: (without moving) Dad, why did you refuse? Wasn’t it because you were afraid of what we’d say?

BALDWIN: [after a long pause] Yes, John.

JOHN: Well, nobody will ever know it.

BALDWIN: Except the four of us.

JOHN: Yes, Father.

(Abruptly they separate. Evie weeps in silence. Martha, being less emotional, blows her nose noisily and fumbles with her knitting. John scowls out of the window, and Baldwin, near the fireplace, clenches and unclenches his hands) Someone’s coming.

Let’s understand better:

Baldwin feels ashamed of himself too. Mr. Marshall, the President of the Third National, another bank, comes to his house to convey an important news.

MARTHA: (raising her head) Who is it?

JOHN: I can’t see (with sudden apprehension) It looks like Mr. Marshall.

BALDWIN: Mr. Marshall? (The doorbell rings. He goes to a window commanding a view of the doorway.) It is Mr. Marshall.

BALDWIN: It is Marshall.

MARTHA: The President of the Third National?

BALDWIN: Yes. What does he want here? EVIE: Shall I show him in, Father? BALDWIN: Yes, yes, by all means. (Evie goes out.)

Let’s understand better:

Mr. Marshall informs Baldwin that Gresham had admitted his guilt, as he knew that Baldwin, being an honest and upright man, would never give false testimony.

MARTHA: (crossing to him quickly) Robert! Be careful of what you say; you’re to go on the stand tomorrow.

BALDWIN: (nervously) Yes, yes, I’ll look out.

(Evie re-enters, opening the door for Marshall.)

MARSHALL: (coming into the room very buoyantly) Well, well, spending the afternoon indoors? How are you, Mrs. Baldwin? (He shakes hands cordially) And you, Baldwin?

MARTHA: We were just going out. Come, Evie.

MARSHALL: Oh, you needn’t go on my account. You can hear what I have to say. (He turns to the head of the family) Baldwin, if you feel like coming around to the Third National sometime this week, you’ll find a position waiting for you.

BALDWIN: (thunderstruck) Do you mean that, Mr. Marshall?

MARSHALL: (smiling) I wouldn’t say it if didn’t. (He continues more seriously.) I was in to see Gresham this afternoon. He told me about the offer he had made you. But he knew that no amount of money would make you do something you thought wrong. Baldwin, he paid you the supreme compliment; rather than go to trial with you to testify against him, he confessed.

BALDWIN: (sinking into a chair) Confessed!

MARSHALL: Told the whole story. (He turns to Martha) I can only say to you what every man will be saying tomorrow: how highly I honour and respect your husband! How sincerely-

Let’s understand better:

Mr. Marshall offers Baldwin a job at his bank, The Third International, thus rewarding him for his uprightness.

MARTHA: (seizing his hand piteously)

Please! Please! Can’t you see he’s crying?

(Slowly, the curtain falls.) - (slightly adapted)

 

About The Author

Percival Wilde (1887 – 1953) was an American author and playwright. He wrote novels, short stories and one-act plays. He also authored a textbook on the theatre arts. Native to New York City, Wilde graduated from Columbia University in 1906, and worked for a time as a banker. He began writing plays in 1912. Wilde’s plays were especially popular in the Little Theatre Movement.


Percival Wilde chose to portray the values of life in his plays, throwing light on a specific trait of an individual. His one-act play The Hour of Truth is a testimony to his craftsmanship where the three classical unities of time, place and action are observed. The climax of the play develops rapidly and ends with a pleasant surprise


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