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A Drama in Three Acts
TIME: 1862 (early in Civil War) PLACE: New Orleans, Louisiana
CHARACTERS (in order of appearance)
GUY-PHILIPPE GAUTIER: 19, natural son of Charles Thissaud, returning from France
ACHILLES, Marquis de Marigny: 20, French nobleman and Guy’s university friend
AMALIE: slave woman in late 30’s, Phoebe’s personal maid
UNCLUTHA (actually Uncle Luther): aged slave, manservant of Charles Thissaud
CHARLES THISSAUD: early 50’s, Creole gentleman and Colonel of the Confederacy
PHOEBE THISSAUD: 22, Charles’ wife of 3 years, a Protestant from Savannah
JEANNIE: slave girl, daughter of Aunt Millie
AUNT MILLIE: mature slave woman, wet-nurse to Thissaud children
Also: Sailors, slaves (workers & domestics), 2-year old boy, infant, masquers, revelers
& ball guests, Confederate soldiers
ACT I – Mardi Gras Day
(Afternoon on riverfront at Place d’Armes, Cathedral, Cabildo, etc. in background. A ship is at the wharf where large CROWD mingles and passes. GUY and ACHILLES come down the gangplank and await their luggage.)
GUY (gesturing expansively): Well, here it is, Achilles, mon ami! My New Orlins! Not much compared to Paree, mais we do have our own Champs Elysée!
ACHILLES: At last I discover Amérique-a! C’est magnifique!
(In the CROWD, a group of costumed REVELERS passes by.)
GUY: Well, look at that, cher—our fine ship done got here for Mardi Gras!
ACHILLES: Alors, mon âme, we must drink for your return to the homeland.
GUY: Yes, indeed! Somethin’ to fortify myself for the comin’ ordeal.
ACHILLES: Cher Guy-Philippe, do not fear. Your homecoming is to be happy!
GUY: But it’s so bitter comin’ home to this war!
ACHILLES: The Yankee is the barbarian of the north! The war is our chance à gloire!
GUY: I s’pose so. But Achilles, I dread so meetin’ this Savannah lady my Papá done married.
ACHILLES: Ah! Mais les femmes… Pas de problème pour toi, ma fleur noire!
GUY (throwing his arm round ACHILLES’ shoulder): You an’ me, cher—les deux soldats! Now let’s go find us a big bottle o’ wine.
(Enter AMALIE among PASSERSBY, carrying an armload of flowers.)
GUY (cont’d, running to her and calling): Amalie! Ho-Ho! Amalie! Over here!
AMALIE: Masta Guy-Philippe! You be home! Praise the Lord!
(They embrace long and warmly.)
GUY (hugging her): O Mammy! It’s been so long, Mammy…
AMALIE: O Masta Guy! My boy! An’ look how you done growed! You ain’t no boy no mo’!
GUY: No, ma’m, I ain’t! (laughs; to ACHILLES) This here’s Amalie I told you ‘bout, cher. (to AMALIE) An’ see here, Mammy, this here’s Achilles, my best friend from France.
ACHILLES (bowing gallantly): It is my pleasure, Madame Amalie.
(AMALIE merely looks down in embarrassment.)
GUY: An’ how’s ev’rybody, Mammy? Is Unclutha…?
AMALIE: That ol’ darkie, he still kickin’! An’ the rest o’ folks, we doin’ passable.
GUY: An’ what about this Miz Phoebe, Mammy?
AMALIE: She a purty young lady, Masta Guy, an’ your papa he pow’ful proud o’ her—an’ them sweet babies. Missy Phoebe a fine southrun lady, even if she do talk Georgia an’ is one o’ them Pro-test-ants.
GUY: An’ Papá?
AMALIE: Tol’rable… But he goin’ off to war soon, an’ him gittin’ so ol’!
(As SLAVES bring their luggage down the gangplank, parade MUSIC approaches.)
AMALIE: Lawsy, Masta Guy, you be home! But I gotta git on back. Y’all go on and see the parade. (to the SLAVES) Come on, y’all, we takin’ these to the Thissaud place over on Esplanade. Toot sweet!
(Exit AMALIE and SLAVES. GUY and ACHILLES join CROWD around parade that enters with MUSICIANS and a float of Comus enthroned, crystal goblet raised.)
PARADE CROWD (singing):
The sorcerer son of Circe has come, / From cypress shades, the great Comus!
To him this day all mortals succumb— / The mythikal wizard Comus!
His cup is of crystal, filled with sweet wine. / He offers drink to all comers.
One drop in deep enchantment entwines— / The magikal brew of Comus!
The Mystikal Krewe of Comus are we! / To him we pledge our devotion,
And wallow in a sensual stie! / The Mystikal Krewe of Comus!
(Along with WORKERS and SAILORS from the dock, GUY and ACHILLES run off with the parade.)
END OF ACT I, SCENE 1
(Early evening at Maison Thissaud: front of house on boulevard with central carriage-way and wrought-iron balconies with several French doors. UNCLUTHA stands in the street idly watching other SLAVES hang streamers for the ball.)
UNCLUTHA (turning aside to address audience): Hey there, all you sinners! Vive Mardi Gras! We throwin’ us a ball over here, an’ they some fancy folks a-comin’. So y’all best go git your masques an’ come have a pile o’ fun! We do penance tomorra!
(Enter CHARLES from carriageway.)
UNCLUTHA (turning back to SLAVES): Hang them ribbums jes’ so, y’all!
CHARLES: You certain sure ev’rythin’ needs doin’s done, Lutha?
UNCLUTHA: Yes’r, Masta Sharl. Ev’thin’s lovely, an’ the goose, she hangin’ high!
CHARLES: Well, you best git doin’ somethin’ ‘sides lollin’ round. Rest o’ y’all—finish up! Guests’ll be here in a minute.
(Exit other SLAVES through carriageway. CHARLES lights up a cheroot.)
UNCLUTHA: Masta Sharl…
CHARLES: Oui, Lutha?
UNCLUTHA: Why you ain’t gone take me with you?
CHARLES: Now, Lutha, I told you, you too old an’ feeble to go traipsin’ round in the woods! Now let’s git this ball a-rollin’—go git me a julep!
(Exit UNCLUTHA through carriageway. Enter PHOEBE from left French door onto balcony above. She wears a formal gown and is followed by JEANNIE.)
PHOEBE: Come on out here, Jeannie, where the light’s still good.
CHARLES (calling up from the street): Is your dress done, Phoebe darlin’?
PHOEBE: Almost, my love. Jeannie’s finishin’ my hem.
(Exit CHARLES through carriageway. On balcony, while JEANNIE stitches, enter AUNT MILLIE with baby through center French door.)
AUNT MILLIE (offering baby): Here be your li’l angel, Missy.
PHOEBE (taking baby): Thank you, Millie. (to baby) Mama’s sweet Marie! My li’l dumplin’!
(Enter CHARLES from right French door, followed by UNCLUTHA with drink on tray.) PHOEBE cuddles the baby briefly and gives her back to AUNT MILLIE, who exits through the center French door.)
CHARLES: O Phoebe, darlin’—how I hate the thought o’ leavin’ you… an’ our babies… to fight in this here war!
PHOEBE: I do hate it so! Lord, how I dread this very first time on my own! But we still got this evenin’, my dear. Don’t let’s worry ‘bout tomorrow.
(Enter AMALIE on street below with SLAVES and trunks.)
AMALIE (shouting up): Masta Sharl! Guy-Philippe done git here! He home! Him an’ his friend, they be marchin’ with that Comus parade!
CHARLES (laughing): Amalie, go do up some quarters for the young gentlemen.
(Exit AMALIE through carriageway.)
CHARLES (cont’d.): Ah, Phoebe, now I do feel more like Mardi Gras! Thank God, my Guy-Philippe will be here to look out for you.
PHOEBE: But Charles, I’m not… I didn’t think he’d be arrivin’ so soon. (turns away) O, I do hope they’re gettin’ Victor ready for the parade. It’ll be here shortly.
CHARLES (catching her arm): Forgive me, cherie, but… Now that Guy’s come home… I hesitated to tell you before, but he… Well, cherie, he’s octoroon.
PHOEBE: O, I see… So this—this natural son of yours—is one o’ those ‘people o’ colure.’ That means his mother was…
CHARLES: Quadroon, yes. O Phoebe, darlin’, Guy’s almost white! Remember, here in La Nouvelle Orléans, ev’rythin’s a bit different. Even I got a Spanish grandfather.
PHOEBE: O, I know, but black blood’s…
(Parade MUSIC approaches, and a CROWD starts gathering on the street below.)
PHOEBE (cont’d.): Well, we won’t talk of it anymore. O, where is my li’l Victor? (calling in the center door) Millie! Hurry up! He’ll miss the float!
(Enter AUNT MILLIE from center door with toddler VICTOR.)
PHOEBE (cont’d.): Wonderful! Come on, li’l Victor. Let’s throw some pretty diamon’ beads to the crowd!
(At the balcony railing CHARLES watches them throw beads to CROWD. Enter GUY and ACHILLES, wine bottles in hand, with more CROWD, float, and MUSICIANS.)
PARADE CROWD (singing):
How many the virgin tricked by his wiles / To sip his orient potion!
So soon she yields to wicked desire, / Her virtue seduced by Comus!
How many the weary traveler duped / To drink the draught o’ great Comus!
Who now must wear the head of a brute, / His scruples o’ercome by Comus!
The Mystikal Krewe of Comus are we! / To him we pledge our devotion,
And wallow in a sensual stie! / The Mystikal Krewe of Comus!
(VICTOR throws a string of beads, and GUY, who is looking up at the balcony, catches it. PHOEBE sees him but quickly turns away.)
GUY (calling up to balcony): Bon soir, Madame… (waving to CHARLES) Papá! It’s me!
CHARLES: Guy! Guy-Philippe! It’s you! Glory be!
(Exit CHARLES, PHOEBE, and VICTOR hurriedly off balcony through center door. Meanwhile on street level the float exits, but CROWD and MUSICIANS remain. Enter from carriageway SLAVES, who greet GUY and ACHILLES excitedly, followed by CHARLES and PHOEBE. Father and son greet with kisses on both cheeks.)
CHARLES: Guy-Philippe, mon fils! My! I see you turned into quite a man! Now you must meet my new wife, my own sweet Phoebe. Ain’t she a purty one though? (turning to PHOEBE) Phoebe, darlin’, this here’s my Guy-Philippe.
PHOEBE (extending her hand): I’m so happy to be meetin’ you at last… Monsieur Gautier.
GUY: An’ I too, lovely lady. (gallantly kissing her hand) You’re far more lovely than that tintype Papá sent me last year.
PHOEBE: An’ you’re quite the handsome student, sir. Why, you even have your father’s eyes!
GUY: An’ if you’ll permit me to present my dearest friend, the Marquis de Marigny, Achilles.
ACHILLES (kissing her hand): Enchanté, Madame. (turns to CHARLES) Colonel Thissaud… (They shake hands.)
CHARLES (shaking his hand): Marquis… Welcome to Maison Thissaud.
PHOEBE: But let me be the firs’ to wish you gentlemen a happy Mardi Gras!
GUY (shouting): Vive Mardi Gras! (to PHOEBE) How’d you like the parade, ma’m?
PHOEBE: The costumes are simply charmin’. An’ I love all the happy crowds. We never had anything like these parades in Savannah.
ACHILLES: Permit me, Madame, but en France the stepmother is la belle-mère, the beautiful mother… et c’est vrai! (taking her hand as MUSICIANS strike up MUSIC) May I ask la belle mère to dance?
PHOEBE: With pleasure, Marquis.
(PHOEBE kisses CHARLES and dances off into the street with ACHILLES. CHARLES and GUY exit through carriageway, soon to enter onto balcony. When the MUSIC ends, PHOEBE and ACHILLES exit through carriageway, leaving the CROWD of revelers.)
CHARLES: Guy, my boy—you must tell your friend not to be too gallant with my young wife. She’s not any too used to such continental manners.
GUY: Don’ worry none, Papá—Achilles is a gentleman of impeccable honor. Why, he even fought a duel last year. There’s this great scar on his shoulder.
CHARLES: I’d not doubt his honor for a minute, an’ I’m forever indebted to him for comin’ to fight for the Confed’racy. He must be a very brave an’ noble man!
GUY: I venture to say that you yourself are a very brave man—for marryin’ a wife so young—an’ a Protestant!
CHARLES: Guy, cher, I do hope you an’ Phoebe can become quite close.
(Enter PHOEBE followed by ACHILLES through the center French door.)
PHOEBE: Mister Guy-Philippe, have you a moment to meet my darlin’ babies?
GUY: Why certainly, ma’m.
(Exit GUY after PHOEBE, leaving CHARLES and ACHILLES alone on balcony.)
CHARLES: Tell me please, Marquis, can the Confed’racy expect support from Napoleon the Third in our righteous struggle?
ACHILLES: Malheureusement, Colonel, our Empereur prepares his armée to Mexique-o!
CHARLES: Mexico! If so, your service is doubly appreciated, sir, when your ruler chooses empire over assistin’ his friends.
ACHILLES: It is my privilege, Colonel Thissaud. This is my chance à gloire! I hope to become the Lafayette of the South!
CHARLES: Yes, war is a chance for many things, sir. Mais, venez, Marquis! You should meet the fine people of La Nouvelle Orléans!
(Exit CHARLES and ACHILLES. In a moment enter GUY and PHOEBE.)
GUY: It’s right strange, ma’m, you know, so suddenly to have a brother an’ a sister. I mean, after all these years of Papá bein’ a bachelor…
PHOEBE: Yes… Charles said he waited all that while just for me. But of course, you’re the livin’ proof, sir, that this was not entirely true.
GUY: Few things are, ma’m, especially on Mardi Gras! (shouting down to the CROWD) Hey, y’all—vive Mardi Gras! (to PHOEBE, excitedly) Glory be! I’m home for Carnival! Later on this evenin’ Achilles an’ me, we’ll go into the Vieux Carré an’ do some more celebratin’. Tonight very little is forbidden!
PHOEBE: I beg to differ, sir. I cannot approve o’ the way you Catholic people think you can revel in sin on Mardi Gras and then have the forty days o’ Lent to atone!
GUY: But, ma’m, some of us remain unrepentant.
PHOEBE: Well, I’m of a mind one shouldn’t sin at all. We must strive to curb our brutish urges. There’s things a well-bred person just don’t do, Guy-Philippe, not even on Mardi Gras. But here we are talkin’ theology!
GUY (laughs): But I guess I’m not terribly well-bred now, am I?
PHOEBE (confused): Some things are best left unspoken, sir. I assure you, my dear Guy-Philippe, you’ll forever find a roof here at Maison Thissaud, an’ when you marry, there’ll be a home for you at Bayou Paix. I pledge this out o’ respect an’ love for my husband!
GUY: I deeply appreciate your assurances, ma’m.
PHOEBE: Well, after this we needn’t mention your misfortune anymore. Let’s keep it like a secret—twixt the two of us.
(Enter CHARLES and ACHILLES onto balcony.)
CHARLES: Beg pardon, cherie, but I think most o’ the guests are here.
PHOEBE: Why yes! We must let them welcome Guy-Philippe back home again!
CHARLES: An’ I ‘spect there’s some young ladies waitin’ to see him. (to GUY) Or has my boy already encountered the goddess o’ love?
GUY: Not yet, Papá. Besides, they won’t look twice at me once they lay eyes on Achilles.
CHARLES (turns to the railing, raising his arms to the CROWD below, and shouting): Mes amis! Bienvenu chez Thissaud! Et… Vive Mardi Gras!
CROWD (shouting): Vive Mardi Gras! Vive Mardi Gras!
CHARLES (still loudly): Hey, y’all! Here’s my boy Guy-Philippe—(pulls GUY to railing)—home from France! (waits out CHEERS from the CROWD) An’ here beside me—(pulls ACHILLES forward)—is our honored guest, the Marquis de Marigny, come to aid us in our war of independence! (wait out more CHEERS) Et mes amis! Hey, y’all! An’ I’m commissioning both these here soldier-boys as Captains in the Norlins Regiment!
(While CROWD CHEERS, GUY and ACHILLES formally kiss cheeks, and enter UNCLUTHA with drinks.)
ACHILLES: Félicitations, mon Capitaine!
GUY: Toi aussi, cher Capitaine!
(All take a drink from UNCLUTHA’s tray, and CHARLES steps to the rail again.)
CHARLES (loudly to CROWD): Hey, y’all! There’s more! Tomorrow I myself am off for Tennessee—with my ol’ friend from Texas, General Johnston! (lifting his glass) An’ now! Like Comus, let me lift my glass to the Stars an’ Bars! God save the Confed’racy! (drinks)
(CROWD CHEERS wildly.)
END OF ACT I, SCENE 2
Scene 1 – Good Friday morning
(In PHOEBE’s room: door to hall on left; French door to balcony center rear with windows; a large canopied four-poster with other elegant furnishings. On the bed, PHOEBE sleeps restlessly and starts awake with a CRY. Enter AMALIE from hall door.)
AMALIE: Missy! Why you sleepin’ so fitful? (fluffing PHOEBE’s pillow) Now you rest your head whilst I’ll open up the curtains.
PHOEBE: An awful bad dream… all scary!
AMALIE: Sho nuf, Missy, you all pale.
PHOEBE: I was walkin’ under big trees in the dark an’ someone come sneakin’ up behind me… Please open the other window too, Amalie. I declare it’s such beastly weather in this city! Why, at home in April, there’s always a coolin’ breeze from the shore.
AMALIE (opening window): You be goin’ to the coast soon, Missy, to Pass Christian, so don’t fret. (taking a robe out of the armoire):
PHOEBE (waving it away): I’ll get up in a minute. I do think it’s just my nerves on edge. Tendin’ to the household all these weeks has been so very tryin’. You can go get my breakfast now. An’ tell Luther I’ll see him in a li’l bit about Guy-Philippe’s horses.
PHOEBE (squirming sensuously on the bed for some moments and moaning): God! Charles been gone so long, an’ these nights simply last forever! How my body aches for a caress!
(A quick KNOCK at the door, and enter AMALIE with breakfast tray.)
AMALIE: Yoo-hoo! Here I come with some bacon an’ hot biscuits, Missy Phoebe, honey. So you best git up out o’ that bed an’ set over here for your breakfast.
(PHOEBE slowly rises and lazily puts on the robe. AMALIE places the tray on a table.)
AMALIE (cont’d.): Don’ tarry too long or your coffee git cold. (teasing) An’ you might be interested to know a soldier-man jes’ come in the kitchen totin’ a letter from Masta Sharl.
PHOEBE: Thank goodness! O, give it to me! (seizes the letter from her)
(While AMALIE makes up the bed, PHOEBE sits at table reading the letter and nibbling.)
PHOEBE (cont’d.): O dear! (reading) ‘The Yankees are pushin’ into Tennessee… We had to abandon Nashville!… The poor man! An’ here he calls me darlin’… my flower… How I needed those words this mornin’!
AMALIE: You want Aunt Millie to bring the baby for her nursin’?
PHOEBE: No, Amalie, I don’t think so. Last night li’l Marie hardly got nothin’.
AMALIE: Not to worry none. Aunt Millie, she good as any heifer. But here the reason, Missy Phoebe—you don’t hardly even peck at your food.
PHOEBE (pushing the tray back): You can dress me now. There’s a lot to be looked after.
AMALIE: Yes’m. (takes dress from armoire) This here one light enough for a warm April day?
PHOEBE: Lord, spare me! Not another one of those sackcloths! I cannot endure this borin’ Lent! Why can’t I wear my pretty dresses an’ make myself attractive for the gentlemen?
AMALIE: Only two more days now to Easter, Missy. Then you can wear your lovely laces. But right now ev’body sac’ficin’ for they sins. An’ only body don’t got nothin’ to repent, they be either dead or an angel! Now I don’t see no wings on your…
PHOEBE: Amalie! Hush up! O alright, I’ll wear that wretched dress.
AMALIE (leading her behind screen): So what gennulmin you wantin’ to get dressed up for?
PHOEBE (from behind screen): None o’ your black business!
AMALIE (from behind screen): I was jes’ figgerin’ how when a woman’s milk run out, she git nervous, an’ I bet even when a fine white lady git the itch, she gone want to scratch!
PHOEBE (from behind screen): Why Amalie! Bite your tongue! You’re bein’ crude an’ vulgar! (pauses, frowning) O, alright! Just so you’ll shut up! I do admit to findin’ a certain soldier of the Confed’rate army to be quite appealin’.
AMALIE (leading PHOEBE out from behind screen): Mmhmm. Now you set down over here while I combs out your hair.
(PHOEBE sits, and AMALIE starts brushing her hair.)
PHOEBE: Ouch! You’re pullin’ my hair out!
AMALIE: Sorry, Missy. Yes’m, that Cap’n Achilles handsome alright! An’ a marquis!
PHOEBE: Amalie, you hush up! Besides, I was referrin’ to my own wonderful husband, Colonel Thissaud. So there!
(There is a KNOCK at the door.)
PHOEBE (cont’d., calling): Who’s there, please?
GUY (from offstage): It’s Guy-Philippe, ma’m… an’ Achilles! We been on duty all night an’ got some news for you!
(Enter GUY and ACHILLES.)
ACHILLES: Good day, Madame Phoebe.
PHOEBE: Bon jour, Marquis. (to AMALIE) You run on now an’ tend to your chores
GUY: But it ain’t all good news…
PHOEBE: Well, give me the bad news first, so’s the good’ll be even sweeter.
GUY: Well, you know, ever since our Merrimac lost to that Yankee ironclad, they been sinkin’ our ships. Now they done took Jacksonville—an’ are puttin’ out more iron boats!
PHOEBE: O, that is fearful! (to ACHILLES) But you look so weary!
GUY: We been guardin’ your sleep.
ACHILLES: Mais, Madame Phoebe, soon maybe we see warships of the Union on the Gulf of Mexique-o! The Yankee will attack now perhaps Mobile!
PHOEBE: But never New Orleans, surely. There’s those big forts by the mouth o’ the river!
GUY: An’ we’re settin’ up batteries along the riverfront—that’s the good news!
PHOEBE: Whatever are you talkin’ about, Guy-Philippe?
ACHILLES: He is to say we are now the commanders there. With the cannon…
PHOEBE: Why, that’s marvelous news! How heroic you’ll be—
GUY (interrupting): —It’s high time we went to sleep, ma’m. It was a hard night, an’ it’ll be good to lie down.
PHOEBE: Well, you soldier-boys run off to bed now. Let me keep watch o’er you instead.
GUY: Don’t make no fuss, ma’m. We sleep very sound. So, good morning, belle-mère.
ACHILLES: Pardon, Madame Phoebe… Et bon jour.
PHOEBE: You boys go to sleep right away now!
(Exit GUY and ACHILLES. PHOEBE closes the door and rests her head against it.)
END OF ACT II, SCENE 1
Scene 2 – May Day morning
(Maison Thissaud: GUY and ACHILLES lounge on the balcony, both without shirts.)
GUY: Well, you can tell already, an’ it not even nigh on to noon. This is the first stroke o’ summer! The kind o’ warm mornin’ when it’s hard to haul yourself out o’ bed.
ACHILLES: Remember! I am awake since the dawn, mon Capitaine.
GUY (leaning lazily against him): Yes… Let’s us go back to bed a bit, mon coeur.
ACHILLES (laughing and pushing him away): Ça suffit, mon cher. Soon we must—
GUY (interrupting): —No, cher—today’s the kind o’ day to hop in the rig an’ gallop out the River Road! Go racin’ along the levee! Halfway to Baton Rouge!
ACHILLES: So far? Mais, Guy-Philippe, we must then to return!
GUY: That’s what we should be doin’ today, Achilles. Just you an’ me, cher.
ACHILLES: Do not dream in the day. We have soon our duty at the batteries. Mon Dieu! The day is so warm and yet so early!
GUY: This here’s downright balmy. Just you wait till August come. Still I ‘spec’ as how Miz Phoebe’s bound to suffer right smart today! Ma belle-mère today, she may be dyin’ from the heat—mourir de chaleur!
ACHILLES: Mieux vaut d’ardeur! But you are a wicked stepson, un beau-fils méchant!
GUY: You know, there’s somethin’ in that woman I just don’t trust. She keeps throwin’ herself at you, Achilles.
ACHILLES (laughing): Only she is impressed by my title and plays to be coquette.
GUY: I swear them sugary manners o’ hers are just a way o’ stroking you. An’ those starvin’ eyes o’ hers! But she never meets my gaze.
ACHILLES: Mon cher, she is lovely, but her beauté is, tu sais, trop pâle et fragile pour moi. You maybe imagine only… Be not jealous.
GUY: O, it just irks me that she’s sinnin’ in her mind, lustin’ an’ chasin’ after you.
ACHILLES: The passions of the women! Only the sin of Madame Phoebe, mon ami.
GUY: O, how I’d love to give my horse rein an’ go racin’ down the road! Somethin’ in me wants away—just anywhere—just you an’ me, Achilles—on a trottin’ spree!
(Enter several SOLDIERS on street level.)
GUY (cont’d., calling): Why you walkin’ the street in silence, men? Let’s hear your voices shatter this mornin’ stillness!
SOLDIERS, GUY and ACHILLES (singing loudly):
I’m a soldier-boy from Luzianna! / An’ for Dixieland I’ll wear the grey!
For Dixieland I’ll join the fray! / With pride shall I defend her banner,
Marchin’ ‘neath the glorious Stars an’ Bars, / Marchin’ ‘neath the marvelous Bars an’ Stars!
I hear tell how grand ol’ South Car’lina / Told them Sumter Yankees go to hell!
All it took was one good rebel yell, / Them Yanks took off like chickens flyin’! Ha-Ha-Ha!
Then they marched right ‘cross Virginie country, / Makin’ threat to take ol’ Richmon’ town!
At Bull Run they got shooed around— / Them Yanks lit out like cows a-runnin’! Ha-Ha-Ha!
(Enter PHOEBE onto balcony. ACHILLES hurriedly pulls on a shirt. GUY doesn’t.)
PHOEBE (going to the railing and calling down): Good mornin’ to y’all, gentlemen. What a pow’ful chorus regalin’ me right here in my own home! It’s upliftin’! (turning to ACHILLES) An’ Marquis, you have a throat o’ the purest silver! (touches his throat)
ACHILLES: (taking her hand down and kissing it): Pardonnez moi, Madame. (putting on his uniform jacket) But I must leave you. It is time for my duty to begin. Au revoir!
PHOEBE: A-doo, Marquis! I hoped there might be time for a li’l visit… (looking at GUY) as you’d say, à trois.
ACHILLES (to GUY while exiting through French door): Au revoir!
PHOEBE: O, I thought you were leavin’ too, Guy-Philippe.
GUY: Not just yet, ma’m. I’ve got some time yet. We could the two of us have a li’l visit.
PHOEBE: I really must go look in on my baby children. I might find time…
GUY: I reckon I’ll just lay round musin’ on the heat—till you’re in a visitin’ mood.
(As PHOEBE exits through French doors, enter ACHILLES through carriageway on street level. He joins the SOLDIERS, and they all exit.)
GUY (cont’d., to himself): No, cher, I ain’t jealous. Just a twinge o’ somethin’ kin to pity knowin’ she’s lovin’ you in vain. What’s truly disturbin’—that revulsion lurkin’ in her words. An’ after all her promises, I still feel a guest where I used to be home.
(Enter UNCLUTHA with a drink on a tray.)
GUY (cont’d., taking the drink): Why, Unclutha, like you was readin’ my mind! Merci!
UNCLUTHA: Miz Phoebe say you ‘plainin’ about the weather, an’ maybe want ‘freshmint.
GUY (cont’d., to himself): Well, she at least knows I’m alive… Still, I wish my color weren’t such a grief for her… If we could talk some together personal-like, instead o’ so formal an’ polite, I bet we’d get to be friends.
(Enter PHOEBE from French door.)
PHOEBE: So, Guy-Philippe, now I’m free for a li’l visit. Good, I see you have a coolin’ drink.
GUY: Thank you kindly. But I do hope we weren’t too rowdy this mornin’, ma’m, that we didn’t discomfort your slumber.
PHOEBE: Why, no, not at all… But this weather’s awfully warm for only the first day o’ May. My goodness! Today’s May Day! May Day! We should be dancin’ in the garden.
GUY: If I might say, you seem a touch unsettled today, ma’m. If somethin’s troublin’ you…
PHOEBE: Well, I am terribly concerned not hearin’ from my husband for nearly two weeks.
GUY: Indeed, Papá’s been gone a good long while, all Lent an’ then some.
PHOEBE: I cannot endure it! Yankees invading the land, blockading our ports an’ harbors…
GUY (sighing): On these sultry mornin’s you just want to lay in the shade, a fan in your hand, and a flower—forget all the war an’ the hate.
PHOEBE: You know, it’s right hard on a lady to stay by herself all the time! But I do so enjoy y’all’s company when you’ve got time off duty.
GUY: If you don’t mind my sayin’, ma’m, you do seem to find my friend charmin’.
PHOEBE: O, he is, quite. So gallant an’ most handsome! Why, I think he could even persuade me to learn more French.
GUY: You could take lessons in a shady corner o’ the patio, tète à tète.
PHOEBE: Guy-Philippe! Whatever are you insinuatin’?
GUY: I mean, with Papá away in Tennessee, there’s not much solace for a lovely young lady like yourself, an’ it’s understandable she might cast an eye at a handsome Marquis.
PHOEBE: I’ve done no such thing! My dear sir, where are your manners? Surely they didn’t teach you to talk that way in France!
GUY: My apologies, belle-mère, but I been observin’ your affectionate attentions to Achilles for some time now. I surely do understand. I’d not judge you harshly…
PHOEBE: Kindly cease tormentin’ me, sir! There’s no call for you to be reviewin’ my behavior. (starts crying)
GUY (moving closer): I assure you, Miz Phoebe, I fully understand. Before long Papá will be a fair old man, an’ you such a pretty young lady… I’d not blame you.
(PHOEBE collapses in tears on GUY’s shoulder. Meanwhile, AMALIE appears at door and quickly disappears.)
GUY (cont’d., comforting her): You have my heartfelt sympathy. But this will be just twixt the two of us, another little secret. Achilles won’t never take advantage o’ your feelin’s.
PHOEBE (sobbing): No! It’s… It’s not Achilles! (gently stokes his bare chest)
GUY (pushing her away): My God! What are you doin’, woman? (pushes her away and snatches up his shirt and uniform jacket)
PHOEBE (sobbing): Guy-Philippe! Ever since that first moment in the parade… I’ve wanted nothin’ in the world but you! O please don’t look at me that way!
GUY (hurriedly dressing): Where are your unbendin’ scruples?
PHOEBE: Please, Guy! You just told me I’m young an’ pretty… that you’d not blame me!
GUY: Truthfully, ma’m, I’ve no desire for… for my father’s wife! Now we needn’t speak o’ this again. Certain things are best left unspoken.
PHOEBE (collapsing in sobs): If only you’d just let me be! O, Guy-Philippe!
(Enter SOLDIER on horseback on street.)
SOLDIER (saluting and shouting up at GUY): Cap’n Gautier, sir! Yankee ships! Up the river, sir! They done run the Barataria!
(There is the distant sound of a CANNON.)
GUY (to PHOEBE): Madam, you best see to your household! We are under attack!
SOLDIER: Cap’n! They most way to Arabee, sir!
(Exit SOLDIER. GUY exits through French door. A BOMB explodes down the street. SLAVES, including UNCLUTHA, enter street in a rush through the carriageway.)
UNCLUTHA: Lawse! They done lobbed a bomb at the Mint!
SLAVES (variously): They’s fire in the windas! Bust out the whole wall!
(Enter GUY on street level from carriageway. He stops to look up at PHOEBE weeping on the balcony. BELLS ring in clangor, and he exits, running.)
END OF ACT II, SCENE 2
ACT III – Later on May Day
Scene 1 – Immediately after Act II, Scene 2
(PHOEBE’s bedroom. BELLS ring as PHOEBE enters through French door from balcony. AMALIE stands beside the window.)
PHOEBE: Why you just lookin’ at me? You’re disturbin’ my privacy! Git off to your chores!
AMALIE: Missy… I heered you out there with Masta Guy.
PHOEBE: You listened in!? I should slap your ears!
AMALIE: You left me thinkin’ it were that Marquis! But you sniffin’ after your husband’s son!
PHOEBE: My God! I didn’t even dare let myself think o’ him! But those dreams…
AMALIE: Leastways, ain’t nothin’ happened. Jes’ a li’l mistake, Missy. We won’ tell nobody, an’ your rep’tation ain’t hurt none.
PHOEBE (breaking into tears): The way he pushed me away!—like filth! O, the vile shame! (sobbing) to offer my honor to…to a mulatto! An’ him so bitterly cruel to me!
AMALIE: But Missy, Masta Guy, he jes’ say no. An’ Masta Guy ain’t no mulatto—he be octoroon. Octoroon ain’t hardly got a drop o’—
PHOEBE (interrupting, angrily): You go on about octoroons an’ quadroons—Guy’s mother was part Negro, an’ he’s colored too! I ain’t blind! O, the shame!
AMALIE: Missy, Guy come from good family. Here in New Awlins, he belong to society.
PHOEBE: No! He’s a Negro! (sobs) How could Charles…? With a quadroon…!
AMALIE (interrupting, sternly): Missy, Masta Sharl jes’ talk about that quadroon —(CANNON sounds in distance.) —so’s Guy don’t be no slave—but I be his mother!
PHOEBE (screaming): Damn you, Amalie! (slaps her) Get out o’ my sight, you black witch!
(AMALIE runs from the room.)
PHOEBE (cont’d., to herself, pacing): She dares rebuke me for lyin’! But it’s them that’s lyin’. Dear Lord! Charles, how could you? My God! It’s all one big family! Uncle Luther, Aunt Millie! It’s a nest o’ black vipers!
(She paces in silent anguish, languishes against the bedpost, and then staggers over to the dresser and checks herself in the mirror.)
PHOEBE (cont’d.): Sweet Jesus! I’m so pale an’ wan! (takes a sachet out of the dresser drawer and sniffs deeply) I think I was about to swoon! (recovers and looks again in the mirror) My Lord, how I was carryin’ on! (Another CANNON roars.) O my God! We are under attack! (drops sachet back into drawer and notices something) O thank goodness! Just what I need—that li’l gun my Daddy gave me!
END OF ACT III, SCENE 1
Scene 2 – Afternoon on May Day
(Cannon batteries at Place des Armes. Cannons on either side of stage with two SOLDIERS manning each. ACHILLES stands near one talking with the SOLDIERS.)
FIRST SOLDIER: When you think they gonna attack, Cap’n sir?
SECOND SOLDIER: Them bastards jes’ settin’ out there on the river out o’ range!
FIRST SOLDIER: We might as well be fishin’!
ACHILLES: Even if the Yankee ships come near, mes garçons, our order is to hold the fire.
SECOND SOLDIER: I’d still like ‘em a mite closer to get a good aim!
(Enter GUY on the run, stopping at other emplacement.)
THIRD SOLDIER (to GUY, saluting): Cap’n sir! We got her all loaded for bear, sir!
GUY: Excellent, Sergeant! (anxiously looking across at ACHILLES, who also watches him, to THIRD SOLDIER) Now, if you’d please run the weapon check one more time, men.
(CANNON sounds off-left. All look expectantly. An EXPLOSION follows closer.)
GUY: They’re shellin’ the Mint again! (hurriedly crosses toward ACHILLES, who meets him center-stage) O, Achilles! It was horrible!
ACHILLES: Oui, mon Capitaine! Their mortars can reach into the city! And we must only hold the fire! We cannot…
GUY: No! No, I mean that woman! It was flat out revoltin’! She started pawin’ at me!
ACHILLES: Madame Phoebe? C’est impossible!
GUY: Cher, she say all this time she’s lustin’ after me!
ACHILLES (laughing): I say not to be jealous pour moi, mon ami! Je comprends—a marquis does not compare with une fleur noire!
(Enter CHARLES on horseback with bandaged arm and quickly dismounts.)
ACHILLES (saluting): Colonel Thissaud!
GUY (also saluting): Papá! You’re back—but you’re injured!
CHARLES (embracing GUY awkwardly): It’s nothing, my son! (turns to ACHILLES) My respects, Marquis! (to both) Yes, I’m back from Shiloh, thank the Lord, alive. One day we was beatin’ the pants off that crazy Grant, an’ next thing there was Yankees ev’rywhere! All we could do was flee! ‘Fore a horde o’ screamin’ Yankees!
GUY: O, Papá! An’ now here they comin’ up the river at New Orlins!
CHARLES: I been to see the General, an’ he’s preparin’ to give the city over!
ACHILLES: Mais, non! We cannot surrender so soon!
CHARLES: My orders are to withdraw to Vicksburg, where we’ll not give way to the Yankees! You will accompany me, Marquis, as my adjutant.
ACHILLES: I am honored, Colonel!
GUY: But… Papá! We can’t surrender our home! We can’t…
CHARLES: We have no choice, Guy cher! (embraces him again) An’ I just come from the house—Phoebe’s injured! She shot herself!—on accident. In the leg—not too bad—just bloody. An’ Lutha’s packin’ the wagons with the valuables.
GUY: Shot herself!? O my God!
CHARLES: Guy, my boy! (puts his arm around his shoulder) While we gone, you’ve got to care for Phoebe an’ the family an’ get ‘em to Bayou Paix. The Yankee won’t bother the plantation none. (embraces him again) I’m relyin’ on you, cher! Keep ‘em safe for me!
GUY (distraught): I…I will, Papá. But Achilles…! (takes ACHILLES’ hand)
CHARLES: I’ll keep him safe for you, son. Now y’all get on back to the house an’ get things rollin’! Marquis, gather your kit an’ meet me at headquarters soon as can be.
ACHILLES (saluting): It will be, Colonel. (to GUY) Mon ami… Ne soit pas…
CHARLES (loudly to SOLDIERS): All troops withdraw to quarters! Immediately!
(Exit all the SOLDIERS running. GUY and ACHILLES hurriedly exit, and CHARLES sits his horse, gazing solemnly down the river at the Yankee ships.)
END OF ACT III, SCENE 2
(PHOEBE’s room. PHOEBE reclines on a settee, her leg lifted on a hassock and covered by her skirt. SLAVES pack trunks. Holding a bottle, AMALIE stands close by.)
AMALIE: Missy Phoebe, we best git movin’, honey! The wagons all loaded up. Does you want more o’ this medicine, honey? If it’s still hurtin’…
PHOEBE (vaguely): No, thank you, Amalie. That laudanum’s so strong I can’t hardly even feel my fingers or toes! Thank you, thank… (gazes around dazedly) O, Amalie… Amalie… Forgive me—for slappin’ you! (takes her hand) I was so distraught that I didn’t know what I was doin’.
AMALIE (patting her hand): There, there, Missy Phoebe. I hopes you forgive me too for bein’ so mean about… all that. I dunno what made me up an’ tell you…
PHOEBE: It don’ matter no more, Amalie. (smiles at her beatifically) It’s our secret, twixt you an’ me. I won’ never tell Guy-Philippe nor nobody else, I promise.
AMALIE: Bless you, Missy! An’ I never say—
PHOEBE (interrupting, blurrily): —Did you…? Did you love Charles when you…?
AMALIE (laughing): Masta Sharl? It ain’t my place to be lovin’ or hatin’ my Masta, Missy! (laughing again): An’ ‘tain’t my place neither to be sayin’ no. Now come on, honey, let’s see if you can stand up.
PHOEBE: Let me try. (stands carefully, wincing) There, I s’pose it’s not too painful. (holds on to AMALIE’s shoulder) Amalie, I swear I’ll be truly faithful to the father of our children.
AMALIE: Now, now, Missy… No call to be swearin’. (supports her in another step)
(SLAVES carry the loaded trunks out of the room.)
PHOEBE: I think perhaps I might have a taste more o’ that tonic, if you please.
(AMALIE measures out a spoonful of the laudanum from the bottle.)
PHOEBE (cont’d.): I can’t forgive myself, Amalie… (takes the medicine from the spoon with a grimace) …for bein’ so weak, so wicked! Lord, I sinned grievously in wantin’ Guy-Philippe. It’s unforgivable! But I truly do love him! I can’t deny nor excuse it!
AMALIE (helping her toward the door): It’s good to love folks, Missy Phoebe. Us Cath’lics ain’t so strict like you Christians. The Lord, He forgive when bodies fall into sin.
PHOEBE (blurrily): But it don’ matter now, Amalie. I got to… to go see to my babies…
(GUY appears in the doorway with ACHILLES behind and KNOCKs on doorframe.)
GUY: Miz Phoebe! You’re hurt? How..?
PHOEBE (blithely): O I just dropped my li’l pistol on the floor, an’ it went off! (laughs and lifts her skirt to show bandage near her ankle) Truly, it’s nothing!
AMALIE: I near abouts jumped out o’ my skin, Masta Guy! We was packin’ the trunk an’—
PHOEBE (interrupting): —I was careless—distraught an’ hurryin’… Lord, I declare, my whole life flashed before my eyes!
ACHILLES: Madame, do you walk well? I can carry you.
PHOEBE: Merci, Achilles, no. I’m alright. (takes GUY’s hand) Guy-Philippe, Charles told me you’ll be watchin’ over the family. I do feel so very grateful for your protection! (to ACHILLES) If I am Guy’s belle-mère, Marquis, how do I say French for step-son?
ACHILLES: It is ‘beau-fils’, Madame.
GUY: Thank the Lord you’re… O Miz Phoebe, please forgive me for bein’ so rude before.
PHOEBE: Why, Guy-Philippe, you were a perfect gentleman… an’ I was just bein’ hysterical about that bomb fallin’ down the street!
GUY: Well, let’s get movin’! We got to get y’all out to Bayou Paix toot sweet!
PHOEBE: Just let me go see how Aunt Millie’s doin’ with the babies. Not but a moment…
(Exit PHOEBE, holding AMALIE’s arm and limping slightly.)
ACHILLES (taking GUY’s arm): Mon Capitaine, I too must go now, cher ami! The Colonel…
GUY (throwing his arms around him): Achilles, mon cœur! Non! We are les deux soldats!
ACHILLES (embracing him): Guy, mon âme, this is our fate, our duty!
(They kiss desperately.)
ACHILLES: Je reviens! Ma fleure noire…
(ACHILLES runs from the room. GUY sinks weakly onto the settee.)
GUY (to himself, in tears): Non, non, Achilles… We were goin’ to be brave heroes together! Our chance á gloire! Achilles, my love! (sobs) O Lord! Keep him safe in the battle!
(GUY wipes his eyes, stands up, and finds PHOEBE standing in the doorway.)
PHOEBE: All we can do is pray for ‘em, darlin’! Pray for both of our beloved ones! (limps over and takes his hand) Come on now, cher beau-fils. When they get home, we’ll throw the biggest damned welcome-home party you ever did see! (leading GUY to the door) With flags an’ streamers—bigger’n any Mardi Gras!
(As PHOEBE and GUY exit, lights DIM, and UNCLUTHA enters to center SPOT.)
UNCLUTHA (thoughtfully, with pauses): We done prayed and prayed for ‘em till we can’t pray no mo’. Masta Sharl an’ the Marquis, both of ‘em got kilt at Vicksburg. Now they sayin’ I be a free man, but where this ol’ slave gone go? Reckon I bes’ stay on at Bayou Paix an’ care for my kinfolks. Anyways, won’t be long an’ I be gone to glory too.
(UNCLUTHA exits into darkness.)