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

Act II Scene ii



MERE MARGUERITE feeding fire and occasionally, with many cabalistic signs, dropping herbs and grasses in cauldron. [Slow Music.] 



 'Tis the murmuring of the winds, evil winds; 

 'Tis the beating of the rain; 

 'Tis the groaning of evil minds, evil minds--

 Pays tribute to my fane.

  In the herbs and grasses damp, 

  From the field and from the swamp; 

  Where the serpent's deadly coil 

  Breeds distemper in the soil;

 Dwells the antidote for death,

  And the preventitive of pain; 

  Dwell the silencer of breath, 

  And the chiller of the brain. 

  In the silence of the night, 

  Mid' the tombs and speechless dead, 

  Seek I emblems of my might; 

  Find I symbols of my dead. 

  'Tis a strange and mystic lore, 

  In the depths of nature's store, 

  Sacred to her chosen priest, 

  Makes him king of man and beast. 

  Oh ye mortals ! Poor and proud, 

  There's naught betwixt thee and shroud; 

  When Marguerite exerts her skill 

  By the puissance of her will. 

  Serpent, obey the master mind! 

 Get thee gone unto thy kind, 

 Breed disaffection in the wind, 

 Hatred and evils among mankind! 


Now the hour approaches and those who in daylight shun Mère Marguerite and call her witch and conjuror, avoid her like one affected with a plague; now come to her humble as the dust. And wherefore? To beg her for some love philter. Ha! Ha! Or better still, some sure and sudden means of death. Oh, how many years have I lived in the shadows of yonder burning hill; and bred disorders among my former kind! By spells and conjurations have I set father against son, and mother against daughter. The laughing babe has not escaped the evil eye of vengeance. And I only sigh that, with one fell stroke, I cannot set the world against itself! The cursed humans ! Little cause have I to love them; little cause for pity or regret.— Ten short years ago I was human too; but now all is changed. Vengeance soured the milk of kindness; and I bear no kin to aught save yonder companions of my hideous vigils! Ten years ago, on such a night as this, left I the haunts of man and found my way hither, to study in the solitude of nature means for revenge. Revenge! Ha! Ha! How sweet a remedy for all my ills! Stoned like a dog from my former home; scoffed at, jeered by my fellow slaves and ridiculed like some damned offspring of Beelzebub, I was driven, as they thought, out in the wilderness to die. And why? Because my husband, child and master died within one night from fevers, which they, fools, said were caused by my spells. They lied most damnably! —they lied! In all the simple weakness of a heart, now dead forever, I loved my cooing babe and kind, good man. I knew no hatred then; and now I know no love.-Ten years ago on such a night as this, scarred by rough usage, crippled, faint and half dead, demented—'reft of sense and knowledge of the past, I found here my haven, and here I stay until my fate calls to the gods assigned me. Little do these frivolous fools, these superstitious followers of my occult science, think that Mère Marguerite is she, who has such just cause to curse their race! Murder, violence, incest, every deed of hatred and inhumanity, every inspiration that bears upon its face the impress of hellish origin, find a faithful champion in me! [Noise without.] Come on, ye fools!—Thrice cursed fools; ye food for satan --ye beasts of prey! 


Goes over to her cauldron and stirs. Enter BLACKS, [soft music] fearfully tiptoeing. MARGUERITE appears not to notice them. 



Good Mère Marguerite, we, your followers, are here at your call to assist in the orgies of the night. 


MERE MARGUERITE. The what, knave! Hast thou no other name for the sacred rites of thy sect? 


SECOND BLACK. Good mother, forgive Gaspard's slip of the tongue; for well we know there is no more faithful believer in our cause than he. 


MERE MARGUERITE.  Ugh! Forgive is as strange a word to me as is all else that savors of human weakness. Are others without? 




MERE MARGUERITE.  Then, as the moon is somewhat down, let's to the beginning of our festival.


Wild, weird music. Enter five men and five women, dressed in robes of beasts. MERE MARGUERITE mounts pedestal with conjuror's staff in hand with which she occasionally stirs her cauldron; diffuses a red light. The ten men and women form a circle joining hands, and keep time to the music. Dancing around in a circle, first on one foot, then on the other. Chanting following wordless jargon in a weird moan. [CHANT.] The preceding meaningless chant is kept up until from sheer fatigue the dancers fall on their faces and ten others take their places. 


MERE MARGUERITE.  What would ye ask of him who reigns? 


WORSHIPERS.  A goat! A goat! 


MERE MARGUERITE.  Thrice asked, 'tis granted you. 


WORSHIPERS.  A goat! A goat!


MERE MARGUERITE.  For sacrifice? What ask ye? 


WORSHIPERS.  A goat! A goat! 


MERE MARGUERITE.  'Twill be granted you. 


WORSHIPERS.  A goat! A goat! 


MERE MARGUERITE.  It yonder awaits you. [Points to a cabin.]


WORSHIPERS.  A goat! A goat! 


 Two blacks enter hut and bring forth Clarisse, bound, gagged, pale and trembling. 


MERE MARGUERITE.  [Aside.] What? A maid this time! The scoundrel, Petou, promised me a babe and so stole he here and placed within my cabin this girl, unknown to me. [MERE MARGUERITE. comes close to CLARISSE and glares savagely and curiously in her face. CLARISSE shrinks from her.] Ah! My beauteous dove, thou wouldst show thy strong aversion to my person. I had half a mind to spare thee. But 'tis as well. Thy kind are only fit to die or fill some lecherous master's bed. I hate thee for thy beauty; but 'twill soon be over with thee. Ha! Ha! [MERE MARGUERITE. assumes place on pedestal.] What would ye now? 


WORSHIPERS.  The goat! The goat! 


MERE MARGUERITE.  Ye have the goat. Prepare the sacrifice! 


Two worshipers prepare the stake to lash CLARISSE to. Two start roughly to disrobe her of her outer garments. Tramp of numerous feet without. Enter DESSALINES attended by two MAROONS just as CLARISSE is about to be sacrificed. 


DESSALINES. What mean these grewsome rites, thou limb of hell? 


MERE MARGUERITE.  Choose well thy language, ere I hurl upon thy head a curse that will dry the very marrow of thy bones and make life a misery to thee. Away, unbeliever! Leave the chosen ones of Cabala to their rites. Or, if thou wouldst know what now we do--well, we sacrifice yonder mulattress to the gods.


DESSALINES. [Turning abruptly sees CLARISSE for the first time. With one bound he is by her side and with his sword bears off her captors.] Spawn of hell, for this intended murder ye die! Dessalines has spoken. Pierre, surround this den of serpents with our men, and let no one escape. [Exit PIERRE. SOLDIERS surround the men and women, release CLARISSE, who is faint, and unconsciously leans on DESSALINES' shoulder for support. DESSALINES turns to the worshipers, who are thoroughly frightened in finding their interrupter to be the much feared DESSALINES.] Rapid is thought. I decreed the death of all you; but it shall not be so. Many here are but the ignorant dupes of yonder unnatural woman. Then let the rest of you take her and do by her as she would have done with this fair and innocent girl. Pierre, remain here and see my orders obeyed, whilst I hie me to camp. 


PIERRE. I will. [Exit PIERRE.]


DESSALINES. 'Tis well that barbarous Dessalines with a hundred thousand Franks at his heels hath not forgotten that justice is the twin sister of freedom! [Exit DESSALINES and CLARISSE.]


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