IN THE MORGUE
By Sada Cowan
Copyright, 1920, by Stewart & Kidd Company.
All rights reserved.
In The Morgue is reprinted from "The Forum" by special permission of Miss
Sada Cowan. Application for right of performing In The Morgue must be made
to Miss Sada Cowan, The Authors' League, New York City.
IN THE MORGUE
By Sada Cowan
[Place: In the morgue of a foreign
[Scene: A small almost empty room
with the rear wall of glass. Before this
glass black curtains are drawn. An old
man ... Caren ... sits at a low table,
well forward, sorting and arranging papers,
writing from time to time. A lamp
upon the table, is so shaded as to concentrate
the light and throws Caren's wicked
face into sharp relief. The room conveys
a feeling of unfriendliness, coldness and
gloom. Caren is old, so old he is somewhat
decrepit ... hard, shrill and tottering.
His features are sharp, his fingers
are as talons. He seems almost as
a vulture ... perhaps for hovering too
long among the unbeloved dead.]
Caren [calling to some one behind the
black curtain]. What was the number
of that last one?
Helper [putting out his head]. Thirteen.
Caren [writes and repeats]. Thirteen....
Voices [are heard, rough and harsh,
from in back of the curtains]. Shove
that stiff up! He's got more room than
what's coming to him.
Caren [calling, without rising]. Who
is it you're moving?
Voice. Thirteen. Any reason why he
Caren. Not a bit. Shove him along.
[The curtains part. There is a swift
vision of brilliant light within, and
bodies laid out upon tables of ice.]
Kraig [a man, scarcely more than a
boy, over-wrought and hysterical, with
his hands pressed close to his throbbing
temples, bursts out]. Oh.... Oh! Let
me stay here just a moment away from
Caren [glancing up from his writing
and smiles]. You're all the same the
Kraig. Oh.... Oh!
Caren. That last one got you ... eh?
Kraig [bitterly]. So young ... so
Caren. Must have been a good looker.
Much as you can tell the way his face is
banged up. I'll bet his own mother
wouldn't know him.
Kraig [turning aside]. Don't!
Caren [titters]. He ... he ... he!
Number thirteen...! I hope he ain't
Kraig. He has nothing more to fear.
Caren [with dread]. There's no tellin'.
Kraig. He's dead.... [Enviously.] ... Dead!
Caren [angry]. Fool!
Kraig [watching through the glass at
the placid figure, enviously]. Dead!
Caren [exasperated]. Bah!
Kraig [suddenly has a hideous thought
and turns swiftly to Caren]. You think
it was fair...? He went of his own
Caren. Eh...? What put that into
Kraig. No clothes ... naked!
Caren. A lot of them do that when
they take the plunge. It ain't so easy to
identify them. It saves a lot of bother,
too. We stick 'em on the slabs a while
Kraig [shuddering]. Don't! It makes
me cold ... cold! [Again he parts the
curtains and looks through the glass.]
He's so calm ... so still. I wonder if
he suffered first! [With a clutch of
hatred in his voice.] I wonder if—he
Caren. That soft white kitten? Not
much. Did you get a squint at his hands?
He's never even tied his own tie.
Kraig [laughs]. And he's here!
Caren [looking at Kraig]. This is a
funny job for a kid like you to pick.
Kraig [turning away]. I'm not as
young as I look. I've got three little
ones already. [With deep anguish.]
And another on the way.
Caren. It's a queer hang out for a kid
like you, just the same.
Kraig [hysterically, almost beside himself].
I tell you ... there's another on
Caren. What do you mean by that?
Kraig. Nothing! [A pause, then bitterly.]
Oh there's one joy down here.
You can burrow and hide like a rat from
it all. The damn carriages don't roll by
before your eyes. The women don't!...
Oh, those women, how I hate them.
Their silks, their jewels, their soft white
skins. Fed! Clothed! Housed!...
[Clenching his fists.] While Martha
starves! Oh, God! They drive by
laughing and I could choke them! Listen
what happened. [He comes closer to
Caren and speaks fanatically.] Yesterday
in the park I stood there ... shivering
... wondering! And all at once
the mad hate came into my heart and I
felt that I could kill. [Caren looks
alarmed.] And then.... Ha ... ha
... ha! Then.... The King....
The King drove by. [Laughing bitterly,
and with a great flourish.] And off came
my hat! [Making fun of himself.] My
hat came off my head, Old Man, and I
bowed and cringed [vehemently] with
the hate in my heart. I could have
torn the warm furs from his throat and
wrapped my fingers in their place [his
hands clench spasmodically]. Ugh!
Caren [thoroughly alarmed]. Hush....
Hush! You mustn't talk so of our
King. A nice young boy he is.
Kraig. Oh the hate ... the hate.
Perhaps it will leave me here in this hall
of the dead. [Glancing about.] It all
seems so level here. So level.
Caren [with the first faint touch of
sympathy]. You're right. Here's the
one spot on earth where you get fair
play. That's what I like. There ain't
no rich and there ain't no poor. And
there ain't no class nor nothing. Every
man gets a square deal here ... a square
Kraig. Perhaps that's worth dying
for—a square deal.
Caren. Dying ... bah! Wait until
you've seen a few more of them slung on
the slabs. You'll lose your longing for
death. I'm an old man, but....
Kraig. If only I can see more of it.
If only I can bear it.
Caren. The pay's not bad?
Kraig. It would be bad at any price.
Caren [shaking his finger childishly].
Tut ... tut! We're fair here ... fair.
There ain't no flowers ... he ... he
... he ... and there ain't no song [he
Kraig [with intense passion, pacing to
and fro, and never pausing, while he
speaks very rapidly]. If only the living
could have what is spent on the dead.
All the waste ... the hateful waste.
Flowers wilting in dead hands. Stones
weighing down dead hearts. While living
bodies famish and living eyes burn
for the sight of beauty. Oh, I wonder
the dead don't scream out at our madness.
I wonder the graves don't burst
with the pain of it all.
Caren. Have they shut me up with a
maniac? Have you gone stark out of
[There is a loud knocking on the
door, to the right.]
Caren [opens it a crack and peeps out
cautiously]. What do you want?
Voice. Let me in.
Caren. Get away.
Voice [piteously, clamoring]. Let me
look once ... just once.
Caren [harshly]. Got a pass?
Voice. No ... no. Oh, let me in.
Caren [bangs the door shut]. Get
Voice [brokenly]. Let me look once
... just once. [Caren opens the door a
crack.] Are there any ... women?
Caren. Women? Of course, there's
women ... always women. What is it
you've craving? The sight of the beauties
or the smell of their stinking flesh?
Go on ... get out. This isn't a bawdy
house. [He slams the door to and walks
Kraig. What is it he wants?
Caren. A peep at the stiffs. Probably
looking for his girl. [He passes
out of sight, behind the black curtain.]
Kraig. Oh! [Cautiously he peeps
after Caren, then opens the door a crack
and calls in a whisper]. Man!... You
can see the new ones through the panel
there. Lift up the curtain. There's two.
A blond haired girl and a boy. [He
turns swiftly as the curtains part and
Caren reënters. Softly he shuts the door,
then stands watching into the hallway
through a glass partition.] Poor soul!
Caren [mumbles as he returns].
There's something queer about that last
Kraig. Number thirteen?
Caren. Yes, number thirteen. You
may have been right after all. Perhaps
it wasn't fair play to put him in the
river. There's some mystery ... something
wrong. [Tittering.] He ... he
... he! Not number thirteen for nothing.
Kraig [watching outside]. How do
you know there's anything wrong?
Caren. That's telling, Sonny. [With
deep meaning.] But you get wise quick
... looking at the dead.
Caren. People are telephoning and
messengers are on the way. Pah ...
things like this are a nuisance. They
keep one late. What are you watching?
Kraig. That man who was here at the
door. He doesn't go away. I wonder
what keeps him here.
Caren. Conscience! Scared to death
he'll find his girl. Afraid not to look for
Kraig. You mean?...
Caren. Oh, there's just two things
drives people into the water. The men ... 'cause
they've got too little inside
'em.... The women....
Kraig [furious]. Stop!
Caren [alarmed, yet brazen ...
scratching his head]. He ... he ...
he! Pretty clever little joke. He ...
[Kraig begins to pace the room, his
hands pressed to his temples.]
Caren. I must tell that to the boys
inside. [He starts to go.] Pretty clever
Kraig [watching, excitedly]. There's
something wrong with the fellow. I'd
Caren [pausing]. You'd better shut
your eyes and see nothing.
Kraig. He is staggering.
Caren. Let him stagger.
Kraig. He may be ill. He may be—starving.
Caren. He's come to a good place to
lose his appetite.
Kraig. Oh, let me see what's wrong
with him ... please.
Caren. You go out that door and
you don't come back. [A pause.] I
guess you'll stay.
Kraig [looks his hatred]. Just as you
[Outside the door there is a short,
Kraig. He's fallen.
Caren. He'll get up.
Kraig. I wonder what happened.
Caren. Perhaps he got a peep at the
new blonde. [There is now a violent
banging on the door.]
Kraig. He's here.
[Caren opens the door cautiously a
Voice [outside]. My woman!...
Caren. If you can identify her shut
up your racket. Go to the first door at
the right and make arrangements to take
Voice [crushed and broken]. Maria.
Caren. Shut up! Bottle the tears
until you get home. The first door to the
Voice [pleading]. Cover her. For
the love of the Lord ... cover her.
Don't let her lie like that.
Caren. Ain't she covered enough to
Voice. Cover her ... cover her.
Caren. Afraid she'll catch cold? Go
on ... get out! [He slams the door.]
Kraig [walks to the black curtains and
parts them slightly]. His woman ...
his LOVE. [Sighing and glancing towards
the door.] Poor devil!
Caren. What's the matter with you,
Kraig. Nothing. I was just thinking.
Caren. Don't be a fool.
Kraig [again walking back and looking
at the woman]. Couldn't we cover her
just a little? The sheet seems to have
Caren. And no harm done. Meat's
Kraig [dreamily]. Her hair would
cover her like a mantle. How soft
and white she is. And how happy she
seems. I wonder just when that look
came into her face. It surely wasn't there
when she plunged into the river.
Caren [annoyed]. You ought to be
nurse maid to a doll baby. What are you
Kraig [indifferently]. A dreamer ...
a creator ... a starver!
Caren. Well, you're the wrong sort for
in here. This is one place where you get
down to facts; truth. No lies, no frills,
no dreams. Dreams don't count [banging
his fist for emphasis]. Money don't
count. Power don't count ... beauty
don't count. Nothing counts.
Kraig [hotly]. Then it's not truth if
beauty and dreams don't count. That's
what we starved for, Martha and I.
Caren [softening a little]. Well, you
won't starve here. It's a fair place ...
fair. The King himself wouldn't be
treated no different than a beggar. The
man with brains and the man without....
[The curtains part and a helper
Helper. Some one wants to blink at
number thirteen. He's got two swell
dames with him. Can they go in?
Caren. If their permit's all right.
Yes. Bring them in.
Helper. They won't come in here.
They want to go in the private way.
Caren. I know there's some mystery
about number thirteen....
Helper. Yes, there is. He's a swell
... a big one. I shouldn't wonder if....
Caren. Go on. Get out. [The helper
Kraig. Aren't you going to cover the
boy before you let them enter?
Caren. If they can't see him how are
they going to know him? He ain't a
Kraig. It all seems horrible.
Caren. I guess you'll never see a
second day at this.
Kraig. Oh.... Oh, I don't know.
Caren. You think I'm going to tuck
on a few extras just because he's a swell.
[Yelling.] Don't I keep telling you 'til
there's not a breath left in my body, that
there ain't no class here? [The helper
reënters and hears the last words. He
stands breathless.] Tramp or gentleman,
they're all alike. Now get that into your
head and let it grow.
Helper [has been stammering trying to
speak]. I oughtn't to tell. They'd kill
me if they knew. It's to be kept a secret,
Caren. What's the matter?
Helper. Number thirteen.... [Stammering.]
He ... he....
Caren. Well, what about him?
Helper. He ain't a loafer. He ain't
a tramp. He ain't even a gentleman.
Caren. Who is he? Quick!
Helper. Our.... [Exultantly.] Our
Caren [open-mouthed, aghast]. Our
Kraig [laughing triumphantly]. Ha
... ha ... ha ... ha—HERE! [He
clasps his hands together.]
Caren [excited]. Are you mad, Boy,
mad? Our King! Oh!
[Kraig laughs. Both men stare at
Helper [to Caren]. Ain't you got a
flag or something ... some little mark
of respect to cover his nibs?
Caren [to Kraig]. Run upstairs and
get that big silk flag that.... [as Kraig
does not move]. Go.
Kraig [immovable, abruptly ceasing to
Caren [threateningly]. What do you
Kraig [hysterically]. This is one place
in the world where all are treated fair.
Dreams don't count. Power don't count.
There's no rich, no poor....
Caren. Shut up and get that flag.
Kraig. You're going to cover him
... but she.... Oh! [Both men disappear
behind the curtains, cringing and
bowing to people within. Caren, with
his back to the curtains, does not realize
that he is alone.] Even death can't level.
No ... not even death. [For a second
he stares ahead of him piercingly into
space, standing taut and rigid. Then
commences to laugh in pure hysteria as
[The Curtain Slowly Falls.]