"Dessalines" (1893): A Play by William Edgar Easton

Act II, Scene 1





DOMINIQUE. I believe it is so written in my philosophy: “All roads lead to perdition.” If this be so, what a consolation hath the unconvertible sinner. By my staff—and no such staff shall I weild when once I am the lord chancellor of this realm—this must be the main road; for between floundering in hogwallows and groping in prickly bushes, I find myself in a worse condition than is the soul of the heretic, Dessalines—if he hath one, which I have just cause to doubt. Ugh! to make my condition worse that lean scamp Petou, whom I raised from an ordinary scullion to that of my respected socius; that hungry pauper, Petou, who never had the tender of a pour boire before, he became my attachè, and who should, on such an occasion as this, be my staff, leaves me in my dire extremities to be felled by the foul blasts of this malarial swamp! Ingratitude, O Petou! 


Enter PETOU blindly; butts DOMINIQUE squarely in the stomach. DOMINIQUE falls. 


DOMINIQUE. Oh! Thou uncanny pipestem! Thou foul blight upon the name of man! Thou human sarcasm!  Come hither and help me to my feet! 


PETOU. Is there no forgiveness for me? 


DOMINIQUE. Help me to my feet, I say ! 


PETOU. And myself to a beating at the same time, eh? 


DOMINIQUE. Oh! I will collar thee. 


PETOU. I've been collared once this day.


DOMINIQUE. Ugh! I'm in a pool. 


PETOU. Scrubbing is, alone, necessary to make thee clean. 


DOMINIQUE. Thou fool! I'm wet! 


PETOU. The novelty of the situation must amuse thy high mightiness. 


DOMINIQUE. Ah! When as lord chancellor I have the ear of Dessalines, thy head shall go first. 


PETOU. I have risked it more than once for thee already. Thou wouldst be lord chancellor. Ha! ha! 


DOMINIQUE. And thou, infernal product of my generosity. 


PETOU. Is it possible ?


DOMINIQUE. Oh ! how I'm fallen. 


PETOU. All in a lump. 


DOMINIQUE. Oh tempora! Hard times, these.


PETOU. Indeed! Sayst thou forgiveness for me? 


DOMINIQUE. Never! I can preserve my dignity even as I am. 


PETOU. Know thyself. 


DOMINIQUE. Thou infernal device of satan! Thou malapert! I spit upon thee. 


PETOU. And on thy stomach, too. 


DOMINIQUE. Go! Leave me to my thoughts.


PETOU. Ump! Such thoughts!


DOMINIQUE. They are not of thee, I promise. 


PETOU. Of thyself? Still worse. 


DOMINIQUE. Hence, caitiff, my misfortunes provoke thy vulgar mirth! I'll find repose even in this slough of despond. 


Sleeps. PETOU feels his capacious pouch with his foot. 


 PETOU. Oh, sanctimonious roué! Would-be philosopher! Human ponderosity! Vice trembles in Haïti when thou hath thy fall. Like Deliah, will I clip thy strength and grow indulgent through thy misfortune. [PETOU feels flask in DOMINIQUE's breast pocket.] What is this? 


DOMINIQUE. [Sleepily.] The philosopher's stone; verily, Petou--the philosopher's stone.


PETOU. He lies even in his sleep. I'll help myself. [Stoops to secure flask; DOMINIQUE collars him. 


DOMINIQUE. Oh, thou ill-odored wretch! Thou garrulous ill bred scamp! Thou infernal miscreant! By my hopes of future reward, I have thee now. 


PETOU struggling to free himself lifts DOMINIQUE to his feet. 


PETOU. And what hurts me most, thou hath me against my will. 


DOMINIQUE. Such a beating thou shalt have, as thou wilt remember to thy dying day. [Shakes Petou.] 


PETOU. Oh, my stars! Ordain my head should go, when thou art chancellor of the realm; but spare me the beating. 


DOMINIQUE. Infernal imp, thou deservest death!


PETOU. But thou art merciful; too generous by far—too generous to miss this grand chance to be magnanimous. 




PETOU. Oft do I watch thee; thy bearing is so dignified; thy manner so lofty. Thou remindest me of—


DOMINIQUE. Cease thy flattery; it will avail thee not. 


PETOU. Thy looks belie thy words. What kindly humor beams in thy mild blue eye. What prayerful earnest- ness in thy tout ensemble. 


DOMINIQUE Cease tempter! [DOMINIQUE lifts staff.] 


PETOU. Impossible! Who would dare tempt thee. Surely not mortal man.




Pushes PETOU from him. Lifts staff with both hands, as if about to strike. 


PETOU. Strike, my lord, with all thy strength; strike as one who would, with one fell blow, bury ambition with hatred. 


DOMINIQUE. Speak, what meanst thou? 


PETOU. If, by chance, thy blow were to kill—ah, bien ! Bid good-bye to thy-rather my eloquent memorial to Dessalines, giving good reason why thou shouldst be created lord chancellor of-of Port Au Prince. 


DOMINIQUE. [Aside.] Ump! I did not think of that. [Aloud.] Petou, mine is, as thou sayst, at times—at times Petou, a tender and compassionate heart. Wilt thou do better, should I forgive thee? 


PETOU. [Aside.] Flies and roaches, too, are caught with treacle. [Aloud.] Most assuredly, my lord. [Aside.] I'll not be caught again. 


DOMINIQUE. But ever 'Tis well thou art forgiven, rash man. keep in mind, how near thou wert to— 


PETOU. Purgatory? 


DOMINIQUE. To hell. 


PETOU. Thou makest me shiver!


DOMINIQUE. Petou, there be all else in that place that's evil save chills and shivers. Allons, mon ami, we have more serious affairs for the balance of this night. 




 DOMINIQUE. We have with us the maiden Clarisse, whose continued companionship has few charms for my sedate behavior. And truly it looks not well for me to travel long in close company with a beauteous member of the female sex. A mulattress, too, at that. Aye, indeed, it is not well to have it known I have in my retinue—and that, too, unauthorized by Monsieur Dessalines, who loves not women; neither good wine, God nor himself—a woman. Night and day, morn and evening, Dessalines cries “liberty!" It is his god-his fetich. Ha! ha! Petou, man dreams liberty is a life of freedom. Liberty—mark ye, Petou- for mortal man, is death. Conscience, then, availeth naught. So guard the portals of thy heart against the whim. Philosophy, Petou, philosophy—I'm in a quandary what to do with aforementioned female. Thou meddlesome fellow, I have thee to blame for this! 


PETOU. Her brother hath gold; he will ransom her. 


DOMINIQUE. Gold, gold! Thou sordid creature! Knowst thou not, should the details of this abduction reach Dessalines, he would have thy ears for crows' meat? Why didst thou lie to Rigaud and abduct this burden? Have I not already a herculean task to provide for thy necessities? 


PETOU. For that same reason, did I wish to provide for myself.


DOMINIQUE. What wouldst thou with gold? 


PETOU. Get me the barrel of wine thou hath given me, in promise, for the last six months. I need a coat. This is no livery for the secrétaire. Secrétaire be wet. 


DOMINIQUE. Coat! Thou needst brains more. 


PETOU. Even brains can be bought with fair promises. Hadst thou gold, how rich I would be! 


DOMINIQUE. Let me again tell thee, knave Petou, shouldst thou expect to become like unto myself, thou must in thy chrysalis state mortify the flesh. From women, strong drink-strong drink, thy weakness—richly spiced foods and fine feathers thou must abstain. Mark me well, the more thou refraineth now from the meats of Egypt the more wilt thou, eventually- when we have run the Franks from our midst—be able to thrive upon the marrow things of the world. World, sayth I? Nay, mundane sphere—'tis more philosophical. Wouldst thou some advice to thrive and be contented? 


PETOU. [Aside.] 'Tis all I ever get from him. [Aloud.] Thy pleasure, sir, to be—contented. 


DOMINIQUE. Well, says my philosophy: “Man is born of woman and liveth but a few days. He cometh up in the morning and is chopped down about nightfall. That joy which lasteth not long is a precious boon. To keep this boon the wise man maketh any sacrifice. Not so with the fool. He seeketh what he calls happiness; he sometimes calls it liberty. In pursuit of the myth he loseth the substance.” Ah, what gaineth thy stomach shouldst thou get the whole shoat and lose all thy teeth. 


PETOU. That is so. 


DOMINIQUE. Thy life is in constant danger [PETOU gets closer to DOMINIQUE] from corporeal dangers. The dangers of the corporeal life over which we have control are women, wine, rich foods and fine feathers. And the outgrowth of these dangers, dear Petou, constitute our spiritual ills. Strive to be contented, not happy. Long life means not fullness today and a vacuum tomorrow. Have faith in me; be contented with—hope, and be charitable to our present necessities. 


PETOU. Finis—for the present. 

DOMINIQUE. Hath thou heard all ? 


PETOU. More than all—enough. 


DOMINIQUE. Then bring hither this maiden, and perhaps in the interest of our cause, I will put to good use her maidenly docility. 


PETOU. [Aside.] Thy cause is rotten. [Exit PETOU


DOMINIQUE. Some philosopher hath said it, and methinks his application was wrong, that politics is the science of government. In my lexicon it is the science of downing—downing thy fellow man. I believe my lexicon is in common use.


DESSALINES. Enter Petou and CLARISSE. Petou bows and struts off. 


CLARISSE. Tell me, sir, why am I thy prisoner? 


DOMINIQUE. Not prisoner, sweet miss. Prisoner—forsooth! That would, in necessity, make me a jailor—a common jailor. 


CLARISSE. I do not understand this mockery. I am decoyed from home, with the explanation my brother lies dangerously ill beyond these dismal swamps. For five hours have I been wearied with this, seemingly endless, walk. Thou claimst, I would judge by thy garb, to be a leader of thy kind. Tell me then, sir, thy purpose with me! 


DOMINIQUE. Oh, woman! Curb thy incomprehensible curiosity. 


CLARISSE. I am not, sir, idly curious to know thy purpose and my destination.


DOMINIQUE. At most it is not meet time for thee to satisfy thy oft expressed desire. 


CLARISSE. Then, sir, it is not well for me to follow further. 


DOMINIQUE. 'Tis woman's nature to be contrary. Yea, as my philosophy hath it—to be contrary. 


CLARISSE. It is not man's sphere to act the brute. 


DOMINIQUE. [Aside.] Not so mild after all. [Aloud.] I admire, sweet miss, thy philosophy as much as I admire thy piquant beauty. Beauty and wit, sometimes, go together—not always. Know ye then, it was decided at the council of the future rulers of this island—it was decided thou shouldst be the next prioress of the convent of Gonvaives and— 


CLARISSE. What knew your Sir, what sacrilege is this? council of me?


DOMINIQUE. Ah maiden, thy fame for chastity and beauty is not confined to the narrow limits of one town. 


CLARISSE. Cease thy prattle, buffoon! Thy noisome nothings ill befit thy garb of manhood. If thy purpose be to gain money by my abduction, send but a word to my brother and he will give thee gold. 


DOMINIQUE. Money! Sayst thou money? In times of bloody war and invasion, money, that is, currency, ceases to be a necessity, and its carriage becomes a burthen. See what thou wouldst have—and take it. Philosophy. 


CLARISSE. If it be not gold—what wouldst thou ? 


DOMINIQUE. Maiden, I have said: Thou hast been called and chosen. It is then for thee to be obedient in all things to the will of those who rule in matters of this kind. 


CLARISSE. Ah, I see, too well, I am the chosen victim of an outrage! Holy Mother of God, protect thy handmaiden from the sacrilegious wretch who hath her in his keeping! Sir, I now comprehend my position; but I warn thee, I have a brother who will avenge my wrongs. 


DOMINIQUE. It is unseemly for one of thy gentle sex to utter threats of vengeance.


CLARISSE. And how more unseemly is it, for thee to thus oppress me? 


DOMINIQUE. Maiden, thou wrongst me; verily, thou wrongst- [Aside.] Ah, here returns that lean scamp Petou! [Aloud.] I have said all there is to say. This night shalt thou, beneath the umbrageous foliage of yonder trees, find shelter; such a couch as is fit for a sylvan queen. Tonight, sweet dream; tomorrow—ah, tomorrow. Adieu. 


CLARISSE. I will retire; but it is to pray thy machinations prove fruitless. [Exit CLARISSE. Enter PETOU. 


DOMINIQUE. Come hither, Petou! This suits me not; this incumbrance of weak femininity hath no charms for my habits of austere philosophy. Petou, beware of woman, for her feebleness is her strength. Man uses force; but she weaves more webs and digs more pitfalls than hath ever entered into the ingenuity of the imps of darkness. Philosophy, my son—philosophy. 


PETOU. How different with wine— 


DOMINIQUE. Remember wine, women, richly spiced foods and fine feathers ! Thy weakness, Petou, Petou—thy weakness. 




DOMINIQUE. . . Look me squarely in the eye and tell me truthfully, how shall we rid ourselves of this burthen? Oh, woman? 


PETOU. Let her friends ransom her. 


DOMINIQUE. Fool! Wouldst thou make matters worse? This thing must not be known. Should Dessalines learn of this affair, thy head would not suffice to pay the judgment. 


PETOU. How then? 


DOMINIQUE. Ah, how then! Petou, well said some erudite poet, “çorn hath ears.” Speak low, perchance these trees be so gifted. Canst thou, from out thy devilish ingenuity, devise some plan to rid us of this maiden, which leaves no ill odors behind? 


PETOU. I'll think-cogitate if it please thee. [Aside.] The murderous rascal. [Aloud.] I have a scheme if 'twill prove acceptable. 


DOMINIQUE. In emergencies like this there is no choice, my friend. 


PETOU. In the interior of this island there is a sect, who, clinging to the practice of their African sires, have in their religious rites a most heathenish practice. 


DOMINIQUE. When I'm lord chancellor I shall inquire more minutely into this. I am moral, Petou, but not religious; mark that. Go on! 

PETOU. Believing as they do in signs, spells and omens, they from cabala conjure a temporal influence with spiritual affairs. 


DOMINIQUE. Ah! I will note this. 


PETOU. On the waning of the moon they meet and in their rites and observances they sacrifice human life. Their place of meeting is within a stone throw of this journey's end. Savez? 


DOMINIQUE. [Aside.] What a deep infernal rascal is this ! [Aloud.] I comprehend thy meaning quite readily. Retire to the back of yonder tree! Sleep not; but watch this maiden like the fierce bird would watch its prey. With a clear conscience, pleasant thoughts. Philosophy, Petou, philosophy. I will retire and ponder on-my lord chancellorship. 


Exit DOMINIQUE and Petov in opposite directions. PIERRE, who has been in attentive espionage, discloses himself.


PIERRE. What a pair of murderous scoundrels go there! But their plots shall go awry; for this very night shall the potent Dessalines know all. This is a war of right contre might, and not a war on feeble woman!


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