Dawn (play)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Announcement in The Washington Herald (14 june 1914, p. 6)

Dawn is a British play in one-act written by Percival Wilde, leased to the Princess Theater in New York in 1914.

The play was published collected in 1915 by Henry Holt & Co. in "Dawn and Other One-Act Plays", by Percival Wilde. In the acknowledgements, Percival Wilde wrote that the end of "Dawn" was suggested by the Arthur Conan Doyle's short story How It Happened (1913).


Henry Holt & Co. (1915, p. i)
Henry Holt & Co. (1915, p. v)
Henry Holt & Co. (1915, p. vii)
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Henry Holt & Co. (1915, p. 19)


  • The Doctor
  • The Woman
  • The Man
  • A Child


  • A mining district.


  • A Winter morning, just before dawn.


A rough shack, one storey in height. At the rear is the main door, bolted. To the left of the door, a window, through which falling snow can be seen. Another door, at the right, leads into the sleeping room.

A stove, against the right wall, and a cupboard near it, are the principal objects of interest. There are two or three rickety chairs, and a deal table covered with a soiled red cloth. A scrap of dilapidated carpet conceals part of the floor. This, and a cheap chromo on the left wall, are the only attempts at ornamentation.

At the rise of the curtain the woman, MOLLY, is discovered, sitting at the window. There is very little light outside, and she has a burning kerosene lamp next to her. She is under thirty, and shabbily dressed. Suddenly she starts, rises. There is a knock at the door.

DOCTOR (Outside) : Let me in.

WOMAN (With great nervousness) : Why did you come here, Doctor? I told you not to come here.

DOCTOR : Let me in, Molly.

WOMAN : You must go away. Please go away, Doctor. ...

DOCTOR (Interrupting. A quiet, commanding voice) : Open the door, Molly. ... Quick, it's cold out here.

WOMAN (Opening the door) : I told you not to come here, Doctor.

DOCTOR (Entering. A man of thirty-five; heavily, but well clothed) : Don't talk about that. I'm half frozen.

WOMAN (Crossing to stove) : I'll stir up the fire a little.

DOCTOR (Following over; warming his hands) : Thanks.

WOMAN : I asked you not to come here, Doctor. You don't know what a risk you're running. If he saw you here now, he — he might kill you.

DOCTOR : That makes it interesting.

WOMAN : I'm serious, Doctor. He was talking about you only the other night; he hates you.

DOCTOR : Yes. It's a nice husband you've got.

WOMAN : You're in danger — in real danger.

DOCTOR : I've been in danger before.

WOMAN (Shaking her head, unable to continue. Puts her hands on his coat, weeping) : Doctor! Doctor!

DOCTOR : It's all right, Molly. It's all right. I'm not going to let him hurt you.

WOMAN : I'm not thinking of myself.

DOCTOR : I know that. But I am, (Noticing her arm) What's this here?

WOMAN (Trying to pull her arm away) : Nothing. Nothing at all.

DOCTOR : Nothing? (Pushing up the sleeve, looking at her. She drops her eyes.) Nothing?

WOMAN : It's a burn.

DOCTOR : So I see. Dick has been up to his old tricks again.

WOMAN : He had a little too much to drink, Doctor.

DOCTOR : How did it happen?

WOMAN : He didn't know what he was doing.

DOCTOR : Let me judge, won't you? How did it happen?

WOMAN : Well, it was Tuesday night—

DOCTOR : After I had left?

WOMAN : Yes. He came in a little later. He had been drinking — and he was angry. You know, drink excites him terribly. And he told me to pull off his boots — and — and I suppose I was slow about it, so — so—


WOMAN : Oh, what's the use? It's over now.

DOCTOR : He took the poker, I should say, and he heated it—

WOMAN : Not very hot.

DOCTOR : As you say. He heated the poker, not very hot, and then he beat you with it, to make you a little quicker next time, eh?

WOMAN : He didn't hit me hard.

DOCTOR : No. I could see that. (Crossing to her, and roughly passing his hand along her back.)


(An involuntary cry of pain.)

DOCTOR : Clever beast! Where it wouldn't show!

WOMAN : It's over now, Doctor.

DOCTOR : Yes. Then, when the poker was cold, I suppose he kicked you. Did he?

WOMAN : Yes.

DOCTOR : Where?

WOMAN (Indicating abdomen) : Here.

DOCTOR (Nodding) : Nice, thoughtful fellow — your husband.

WOMAN (Breaking into sobs) He — he doesn't want me to — to have any more children, Doctor.

DOCTOR (Slowly) : Yes. (A pause.) Is he home? (The WOMAN shakes her head.) When did he go?

WOMAN : Last night.

DOCTOR : With Conolly?

WOMAN : Yes.

DOCTOR : And Holzman?

WOMAN : Yes. He had something to attend to.

DOCTOR : Something to attend to?

WOMAN : Yes. The three of them went together.

DOCTOR : He didn't by any chance mention the Esmeralda?

WOMAN : The Esmeralda?

DOCTOR : The Esmeralda mine?

WOMAN : He said it needed fixing.

DOCTOR : I thought so.

WOMAN : Why, what do you mean, Doctor?

DOCTOR : Nothing.

WOMAN (Alarmed) : What do you mean?

DOCTOR : Would you be very much surprised if I told you that the Esmeralda was blown up at midnight?

WOMAN : Good God!

DOCTOR : There were four men killed.

WOMAN : And Dick!

DOCTOR : Oh, Dick wasn't touched! He took precious good care of his skin!

WOMAN : Dick escaped !

DOCTOR : Escaped nothing! He was the man who blew up the mine!

WOMAN : (4 long-drawn Oh! of horror.)

DOCTOR : He ran ,no risk. There was clockwork, and he was a mile away when it blew up.

WOMAN : But Dick, that Dick should do such a thing! I don't. believe he did it, Doctor! I don't believe it! You don't think so, do you? (The DOCTOR slowly pulls an object from his pocket.) What's that?

DOCTOR : That is part of a dry battery.

WOMAN : Well?

DOCTOR : The number is still on the bottom. Wainwright is pretty sure the manufacturers can identify it.

WOMAN : Wainwright?

DOCTOR : We roused him up. He thinks he sold it to Dick a week ago.

WOMAN (Breathlessly) : Well?

DOCTOR : It's funny that I found it at the Esmeralda!

WOMAN : At the Esmeralda?

DOCTOR (Nodding) : Just after the explosion.

WOMAN (Breaking into sobs, and burying her face on the DOCTOR'S lap.) : Doctor, don't tell me any more! I don't want to know! I don't want to know !

DOCTOR (Stroking her head, and replacing battery in pocket) : It was bad enough without this, wasn't it? And you've stuck to him through it all! You women! (Pause.) Even after he killed Maggie?

WOMAN : Don't say that, Doctor.

DOCTOR : It wasn't legal murder — he didn't do it all at once. It took him more than a year. A child can't stand what a grown woman can. (He pauses.) How old was she?

WOMAN : She would have been ten this month. ... (The DOCTOR shakes his head in silent sympathy.) She was such a pretty child. See!

(She pulls a cheap locket from her bosom, and opens it. There is a pause.)

DOCTOR : He beat her, too?

WOMAN : Yes.

DOCTOR : With the poker? (The WOMAN nods.) Heated — not very hot?

WOMAN : Oh, I tried to stop him, Doctor, but I couldn't do anything.

DOCTOR : I know that. (He rises.) And this brute, this devil, is the man you are living with!

WOMAN : Doctor!

DOCTOR : Yes, you're right. Words don't do any good.

WOMAN : He won't do it again. I'm sure.

DOCTOR : So am I!

WOMAN : What do you mean?

DOCTOR (Wheeling abruptly) : Get your things, Molly.

WOMAN : My things!

DOCTOR : Your wraps — plenty of them — it's cold outside.

WOMAN : But I'm not going out.

DOCTOR : You're coming with me.

WOMAN (Frightened) : Doctor!

DOCTOR : I couldn't stop him from killing Maggie, but he won't lay a hand on you again!

WOMAN : Doctor! I can't do it!

DOCTOR : You're not safe here.

WOMAN : Doctor! He's my husband!

DOCTOR : I don't care who he is! You're coming with me! (Half leads, half pulls her towards the next mom, talking. The WOMAN resists feebly, exclaiming No, Doctor! No!) I'm going to put you to bed for a week, and I'm going to make a well woman out of you. And then we'll find some work you can do — some light, easy work, and you won't know yourself——

(A heavy thump at the door.)

WOMAN : There's Dick! Doctor, if he finds you here ...!

MAN (Outside) : Lemme in!

DOCTOR : Dick?

WOMAN : I expected him back before this.

MAN : Open up! Come on, open up!

WOMAN : For Heaven's sake!

DOCTOR : (Quietly drawing a revolver) Open the door.

(He goes to extreme left. The WOMAN opens the door. The MAN pushes in so suddenly that he almost upsets her.)

MAN (Huge, uncouth, brutal) : Waitin' up fer me?

WOMAN : Yes, Dick.

MAN : Like a kin', d'voted wife, eh? (Crossing to stove.) Glad ter see me, ain't ye?

WOMAN : Yes, Dick.

MAN : Ye better be. (Flings off his coat. Sits. Sticks out his feet. She does not see.) Well! Git a move on! (She runs over and tries to remove his boots.) Come on! Come on! (A pause.) God, you're clumsy! (Pushing her away. Trying to remove his boots himself.) I'll have ter learn ye — like last time. I'll learn ye, all right! I'll learn ye! (He catches sight of the DOCTOR. Springs up, furiously.) You? What are you doin' here? (The DOCTOR does not answer.) Don't stand there gapin' like a damned fool! What are ye doin' here?

DOCTOR : Looking around.

MAN : Looking around?


MAN : Well, see anything ye like.

DOCTOR : Thanks.

MAN : An' get out.

DOCTOR : I'm going to.

MAN (Impatiently) : Well?

DOCTOR : I'm going to take Molly with me.

MAN : Yer goin' ter take Molly with ye? Oh, ho! That's rich! (He pauses.) In love with her?


MAN : Well ?

DOCTOR : She doesn't belong here.

MAN : Don't belong here? Goin' ter take her with ye? Goin' ter come between man an' wife, till death do us part? An' what'll I be doin'?

DOCTOR : I don't care.

MAN : But I do. (Throwing an arm roughly around the WOMAN'S waist.) She stays here! See?

DOCTOR : You needn't argue.

MAN : I ain't goin' ter. (Approaching the DOCTOR.) But I'm goin' ter give ye the damndest lickin' ye eve had before ye get out o' here! (Seizing poker.) I'm goin' ter mess up that pretty face o' yer fer ye!

DOCTOR (Leveling revolver) : Stop!

MAN : Eh? He's got his artillery with him!

DOCTOR : Yes. I knew where I was going.

MAN : Well, shoot an' be damned ter ye! Garn! Shoot! Shoot an unarmed man!

DOCTOR : Sit down.

MAN : Eh?

DOCTOR : Sit down.

MAN : Oh, ho! Orderin' me around in my own-

DOCTOR (Interrupting furiously) : I've heard just about enough from you. Now sit down! (Dick slouches to a chair; sits. During the following dialogue he slowly rocks the chair back and forth, gradually, and almost imperceptibly moving it to the extreme right, next to the cupboard.) I'm not going to call you names. There's nothing in the English language bad enough for you, and you wouldn't care what I called you. But I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do to you.

MAN (Leaning back; drawling) : Yes?

DOCTOR : You killed your daughter.

WOMAN (Interrupting) : Doctor!

DOCTOR (Silencing her with a gesture) : If I'd a had my way, they'd a hung you for it! But I got here too late: I couldn't prove that she died as a result of what — of what you did to her. And we've got to give even such curs as you the benefit of the doubt.

MAN : She was always sickly.

DOCTOR : So you helped her by beating her with a poker — red hot.

MAN : Well, Maggie was my daughter.

DOCTOR : God rest her soul!

WOMAN : Amen!

DOCTOR : Your wife is sickly, too, I suppose?

MAN : Runs in the family.

DOCTOR : So you are treating her in the same way you treated Maggie?

MAN : Is it any of your business how I treat her?

DOCTOR : Yes, it is.

MAN : Well, I say it isn't.

DOCTOR (Leveling the revolver again) : And I say it is!

MAN : Oh!

DOCTOR : That is why I'm going to take Molly away with me.

MAN (After a pause) : That all ye got to say?

DOCTOR : No, it isn't.

MAN : Well, go on. I'm listenin'.

DOCTOR : There was an explosion in the King Edward mine three months ago.

MAN : Yes?

DOCTOR : Nobody was hurt.

MAN : Lord be praised!

DOCTOR : There was another explosion in the same mine a few weeks later. That time a dozen men were blown to pieces.

MAN : What's this? A sermon?

(By this time he has reached the cupboard; he bends slowly, and unobserved takes from it a milk bottle half full of liquid.)

DOCTOR : There were a good many more explosions after that. Then, last night

MAN (Watching him from the corner of his eye, and speaking casually) : Last night?

DOCTOR : The Esmeralda was blown up.

MAN (Balancing the bottle on his knees) : Ye don't mean it!

WOMAN : You didn't have anything to do with it, Dick, did you?

(The MAN pushes her away.)

DOCTOR : Conolly has been arrested already.

MAN : Yes?

DOCTOR : His body is hanging from a tree down the road.

MAN : Without a trial?

DOCTOR : There was no time for any. Now they're after Holzman. He left town early, but they'll get him. They've telegraphed ahead. (A pause.) And I've got you!

WOMAN : Dick, Dick, say you didn't do it!

MAN : Ah, go way. What's the evidence, Doc?

DOCTOR (Showing fragment of battery) : This.

MAN : What is it?

DOCTOR : Part of the battery you bought at Wainwright's.

MAN : Did he identify it?

DOCTOR : Not positively. He doesn't keep a record of the numbers. He's writing to the factory.

MAN : That all the evidence against me?

DOCTOR : Yes. It's a little thing, Dick, but it's enough to hang you.

MAN : The number on the bottom of the battery?


MAN (Rising lazily) : Well, scratch it off.


MAN : Scratch it off, I said.

DOCTOR : Do you think I'm crazy?

MAN : Do you think I'm crazy?

(Towards center.)

DOCTOR (With revolver) : Stay where you are!

MAN (Raising milk bottle) : Don't make me laugh! (Pause.) D'ye see this? (Waving the bottle.) Half a quart o' nitro-glycerine! Half a quart!

DOCTOR : What?

WOMAN (Going towards him) : Dick!

MAN (Turning on her brutally) : Keep away from me! (Turns to DOCTOR.) If ye shoot, I'll drop this — an' it's mighty pertikler where it lands. Or if ye don't shoot, mebbe I'll drop it anyhow. It took only this much to fix the Esmeralda.

DOCTOR : So you did it!

WOMAN : Dick, you!

MAN : Of course. ... (As DOCTOR approaches.) Go easy. I'm not lookin' fer company!

DOCTOR : Ah, you're bluffing!

MAN : Bluffin', eh?

DOCTOR : I've heard of that trick before! You've got water in there!

MAN : Water, eh? Well, you're a doctor — (taking a knife from table; dipping it into bottle) — taste it! (He hands the knife to the DOCTOR.) Well? (The DOCTOR tastes; then silently puts away his revolver.) Ah!

DOCTOR : Think of your wife, man!

MAN : Cut it ! Cut it! Now, let's talk. (Sits.) You're a religious man, ain't ye, Doc?

DOCTOR : Yes, I am.

MAN : Go to church on Sunday?


MAN : You'd keep an oath?

DOCTOR : What do you mean?

MAN : You're going to swear to do what I want before ye get out o' here — alive.

DOCTOR : I'll do nothing of the kind.

MAN : Then ye won't get out — alive. (Pause.) The number on that battery is all the evidence they've got against me. You're going to scrape that off. You're going to tell them I'm innocent — you've talked to me, an' you're sure of it. They'll believe you.

DOCTOR (Quietly) : I won't do it.

MAN : Oh, there's no hurry! Think it over. (Pause.) If ye do, I won't touch ye — an' if ye don't yell be sprinkled all over the county in a minute.

WOMAN : Doctor, he means what he says. I know him. For God's sake—

DOCTOR (Interrupting) : Do you think I'm afraid of death? If I were I wouldn't be a doctor! I ran more risk when the yellow fever broke out in Havana than I do now!

WOMAN : But, Doctor, you are young! Your life is valuable! You don't care about him. Do what he asks!

DOCTOR (Pushing her away) : I am not a coward.

MAN : Well, Doc, I ain't a coward any more than you. What have ye got to say? Quick!

DOCTOR (Rapidly) : Molly, if — if anything happens to me, you will find that I have left you some money — enough to take you East — to my sister. She knows about you. She'll take care of you.

MAN (Interrupting) : Come on! Come on!

DOCTOR (Disregarding him) : You understand, Molly?

WOMAN : But, Doctor——

DOCTOR : You understand?

WOMAN : Yes.

DOCTOR (Turning to the MAN) : As for you, you think you're going to get away?

MAN : Mebbe.

DOCTOR : You won't. (Drawing revolver.) If it's the last thing I do, I'll shoot you. And if I don't get you, they'll get you outside.

MAN (Excitedly) : What do ye mean?

DOCTOR (Lying desperately) : I didn't come alone. I brought a dozen men with me. Look for yourself.

MAN  : Where ?

DOCTOR : Anywheres. Outside.

(The MAN goes toward the door, begins to open it. The DOCTOR rushes at him. The MAN, who half expects it, dodges, jumps back, raises the bottle with a snarl, and throws it as the DOCTOR fires.

There is a terrific explosion. The lights go out, and dawn, an instant later, begins to break through a thin, pungent smoke which is rapidly drifting away on the fresh morning breeze. The rear and left walls of the shack are blown out, and the snowclad hillside is dimly visible.

The left of the stage is encumbered with débris, and a body appears to be beneath it. The right is practically untouched, and the MAN, standing there, with his hands over his eyes, is moaning in agony. The WOMAN, uninjured, but screaming hysterically, is feverishly searching the ruins. And the DOCTOR, apparently unhurt, stands at the left with a child, a child in the garments of the working class, at his side.)

DOCTOR : What a smash! What a terrific smash!

WOMAN (Searching) : Doctor! Doctor! Where are you?

DOCTOR : Here I am!

(The WOMAN does not appear to hear him.)

WOMAN : Where are you, Doctor? Are you hurt?

DOCTOR : No, I'm not hurt.

WOMAN (Falling to her knees at the side of a body, with a torrent of sobs) : Doctor! Oh, Doctor!

THE CHILD (Touching his sleeve) : Doctor!

DOCTOR : Eh? How do you come here? (Thunderstruck, staggering back, almost fainting.) You — who are you?

THE CHILD (With a winsome smile) : Why, I'm Maggie.

DOCTOR : Maggie? But you — you are dead!

THE CHILD (Smiling gently) : So are you.