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

Act IV, Scene 1





RIGAUD. Mark ye well, my friends, though this day may be lost to Fance, let us not speak of retreat while there is work to do. [Signal guns heard in distance.] Listen! The French have landed. Lefebre—to Neybra ; three thousand as brave mulatres await thee there as ever bore arms! Montpensier, thou to La Croix ! And thou, Egard, betake thyself to Archayo, as fast as a horse can bear thee!


Enter SOLDIER hurriedly. Salutes OFFICERS. 


RIGAUD. Whence come ye? 


SOLDIER. Neybra.


RIGAUD. What news from Neybra? 


SOLDIER. Neybra has been evacuated by our troops. 


RIGAUD. Enough! Stand aside! Poltroons. 


Enter SOLDIER, breathlessly. Salutes OFFICERS. 


RIGAUD. And ye? SOLDIER. Archayo! Archayo has fallen. 


RIGAUD. Traitors! Who could win with such a force! Ah then-here comes another. 


Enter SOLDIER in great disorder. More news of defeat ? 


SOLDIERS. Aye, general ! La Croix has fallen and the blacks have reinforcement. RIGAUD. Enough, my friends! This day is, indeed, lost to France. But, Clarisse, thou shalt be avenged upon that black brute, Dessalines !


LEFEBRE. Rigaud ! 


RIGAUD. Lefebre! 


LEFEBRE. I will to La Croix-at once. Perchance, I may never return. If I return not-tell Clarisse, my last words—were of her. 


RIGAUD. Yes,—my sister ! Fare thee well, ami chéri, the last chapter in my life begins ! [LEFEBRE and soldiers depart.] This is indeed a fraticidal war, where justice refuses to smile upon the right! For years the sore oppressed mulatres of this island have hung upon the honied words of France like hungry bees upon the tender petals of the rose, in the end to be robbed of the fruits of patience, love and labor. Ah—now I believe, had we not arrayed our cause aside France, and thus given countenance to her rape of truth and justice, victory would, this day, have rested on our banners! As it is, the air is pregnant with omens of disaster, and before the sun sets on the golden tops of yonder hills, French rule will have ceased in Haïti ! Thus lose we our cause, for right-eousness buckled to the armor of unjust might, re- coils with it, and feels the full shock of God's dis- pleasure. Singing of Marseillaise without; tramp of passing soldiers and huzzas. 


RIGAUD stands in back- ground. 




DESSALINES. Heroic deeds were done this day and history shall enscroll upon her pages: Haïti free and the black man's domination! The crimson tear of war has washed away the curse of years and all smiling nature feels the thrill of a long drawn sigh of liberty! Ye gods of my native land ;-ye sylvan gods, who in every jungle dwell,-most potential beings, laving within the boiling waters of the equatorial streams, and taking your grandeur from surrounding nature your fiat hath gone forth, your people will be free ! And to thee my sword-good sword-true and tried steel, forged, perchance, by some Frankish dog, thy purpose have I set at variance and turned thy sharp- ened edge from the black man's heart to that of our oppressors,—I give the kiss of peace and place thee in thy rest, the scabbard. Right nobly hath thou done thy duty; right truly hath thou met thy aim ! Through corselet of steel; through breach defended by strong cloth, hath thou probed and found the Frankish heart! Wielded by this arm, strong in its purpose, unfailing in its design to further the cause of liberty—were it possible for thee to fail? Fail ! no; had my spring of life run dry; my head grown dizzy with the mad combat; aye, had hell itself pre- vailed against me; had the grim spectre hied me to the trammels of eternal darkness— thy cause; the cause of liberty would have found another cham- pion ! Liberty ! Eternal inspiration of heroic deeds! A principle nature implants in all her creatures ! Liberty, the birthright of all mankind. For a time man may suppress thee, but thou art of eternal youth, eternal being; and when once aroused from thy dreamy slumbers, oppression meets his sternest foe! Thy armor is more strong; thy assault is greater than prejudice and racial hatred enthroned in all their power! [Shouts and song heard in distance.] Hark ! 'tis the death knell of oppression, that rings loud and clear upon the Frankish ear. At last ! at last; fairest germ of all the Antilles, thou art free !—The black man's sovereignty, and Dessalines—ha! ha!-the sovereign.


RIGAUD angrily steps forward. 


RIGAUD. Dessalines, thou art ? 




RIGAUD. Then, infernal black, prepare to die; for this day, have I sworn, shall be thy last! 


DESSALINES. Thine oath was false, boaster! I know thee by no


DESSALINES. name; but by thy face, I know thou art a foe to liberty !— Draw! 


RIGAUD. My name and cause in this combat! Thou shalt know. Ravisher, thou hath in thy possession, one who is my only kin—my sister. My name—hated by every black in Haïti-is Rigaud. 


DESSALINES. What-Rigaud ! 


RIGAUD. Aye, the brother of thy victim, thou hast so deeply wronged ! 


DESSALINES. [Sheaths his sword.] Slay me, if thou wilt, my sword shall never meet thine in deadly combat. 


RIGAUD. I am no murderer, slave! I will take thy life, but only as would a man of honor, deeply wronged, wreak just vengeance on a foe. 


DESSALINES. My heart is bared to thee. If thou believeth thy cause just, strike! I offer no armor to thy blows, save truth. For with my last breath I shall deny thy charge of intended wrong to thy sister.


RIGAUD. Thou liest like satan! Didst thou not by false representation and lying messages entice, from her home, my sister? Didst thou not, taking advantage of these times of bloody war, hold her, ostensibly, as a hostage for what thou, forsooth, called my be- havior! What other wrongs thou hath, by force and devilish machination, perpetrated on this maiden, I know not of, for I am not here for tardy explanation. I am here alone to seek revenge ; even that revenge must be poor compared with the enormity of thy misdeeds! For, a thousand lives such as thine can not repay the world for the loss of one pure woman. 


DESSALINES. Verily, thou wrongst me. 


RIGAUD. Thy denials will not shield thee ! 


DESSALINES. Of thy accusations, Rigaud, I am as innocent as thyself. Having done no wrong-I need no de- fense. 


RIGAUD. Thou liest! To thy teeth, thou liest ! 


DESSALINES. Courage, courage, Dessalines ! [Aside.] This


DESSALINES. Rigaud, trial will prove thy greatest. [Aloud.] blinded by rage thou wrongst me. 


RIGAUD. Again, I say, draw and defend thyself! I will not parley with thee longer ! 


DESSALINES. [Aside.] Maiden 'tis for thee, I endure all this even unto death-for thee. 


RIGAUD. This last I warn thee! Draw ! 


DESSALINES. Why shouldst thou, thus, bay an unarmed man. 


RIGAUD. Ah! I see thou wouldst not fight a foe thou believeth to be thy equal in prowess. Great Des- salines !– Great coward ! 


DESSALINES. Enough! Patience can bear no more! Young man, thy blood be on thine own head !—En evant ! They advance and fight. 


RIGAUD's fierce on- slaughts are deftly parried. Music. Roar of artillery heard in distance.


RIGAUD. Demon, thou bearst no charmed life! 


RIGAUD makes thrust; is parried. 


DESSALINES wounds him and bears him down to ground. 


CLARISSE rushes in and throws herself on her knees at the side of Rigaud. 


CLARISSE. Brother! Speak brother, tell, am I too late! Oh! Dessalines, is this the result of my labors and prayers ? 


DESSALINES. Nay, good lady—I know not how sorely wounded is thy kinsman, for I strove hard to avoid this combat. But that potent Being, of whom thou hath taught me much, willed it otherwise. Farewell, ere conscious- ness returns, I will retire—to a scene my heart is in ! 


DESSALINES. Gone! Perhaps never to return! Brother, do we meet at last, only to part again ?


RIGAUD arises; supports himself heavily on Clarisse.


RIGAUD. Nay, Clarisse, though deeply wronged, thou art still my sister, and at no time more than now needst thou a brother's protection.


CLARISSE. But, Rigaud, thou art wounded ! 


RIGAUD. Nay, sister, not so deeply in the flesh as in the heart. 


CLARISSE. Oh! this fearful war. How is it with thy cause ? 


RIGAUD. Lost, Clarisse, and with it every hope of our re- maining in Haïti. The blacks by force of number and the intrepidity of their leaders have won this fight-the fiercest and bloodiest recorded in history. But it is not of this I would speak. Tell me, pauvre enfant, how deeply wert thou wronged by this in- fernal brute, Dessalines ! Tell me now, that I may live to visit such vengeance on his black deeds, as would in calmer moments,— make my soul blush to think upon! 


CLARISSE. Wronged, sayst thou? Nay,not wronged. 


RIGAUD. Heard I aright! Or is it possible that grief—such grief as thine—has placed its searing blight upon thy virgin mind ?


CLARISSE. Nay, brother, calmly and with the full import of thy words, I answer : he hath never wronged me. On the contrary, he hath, in no rude manner, been my kind protector, through all my vicissitudes, since last we were together. 


RIGAUD. 'Tis strange and thy abductor, too !—Is it possible? 


CLARISSE. Possible ! 


RIGAUD. Aye, possible thou canst look upon thy brother's face without a blush ! 


CLARISSE. Shame on thy cruelty! Canst thou remember, wherein our lives together, thy sister e'er deceived thee? Canst thou in thy judicious mind, find a single evidence of falsity in mine? Ah! hath it come to this—my first accuser is my brother? 


RIGAUD. Clarisse ! Clarisse, canst thou forgive me? 


CLARISSE. Ay! and forget thy harsh words as if they never were spoken.—But thy wounds, dear! Let me band- age what may, indeed, prove to be a serious hurt. 


RIGAUD. Nay, I was but stunned and now I learn thou wert well protected in thy jewels—the crown of every maiden's life—I am twice well! But let us rest on yonder moss covered log and there will I listen to the tale of thy captivity and miraculous escape from mortal hurt. [Seat themselves on log, hand in hand.] Now, sister, tell me all. 


CLARISSE. I will, and that briefly; for I have not much to tell. On the fourth of March, thou remembereth? 


RIGAUD. Can I ever forget? 


CLARISSE. Thou hadst been away from home all that day and the day before. Maman and I had listened to every footfall before our door in the hope 'twere thine. From early morn to the closing of the day we watched and waited, fearing to go upon the streets, as they were filled with rough soldiery. Oh! brother, it was a sad, dreary watch we kept-two affrighted women, who trembled at the sounds of bloody con- flict in the streets before our door, and feared each moment that quiet of our home would be invaded by the frantic slaves without. Dusk grew on us, we dared not light a lamp, but tremblingly awaited thy coming, in silence; when suddenly we heard three loud raps upon the outer door and a low voice in re- spectful tones prayed admittance on business of im- portance. Against the advice of maman, I answered through the door and asked from whom he came. He answered, from thee. 


RIGAUD. And lied ! 


CLARISSE. I admitted him at once, and he informed me that thou wert badly wounded in the woods beyond- sorely wounded—and begged my immediate attend- ance. Hurriedly, I bid-maman au revoir, and fol- lowed his guidance. Wearily for hours I followed his silent lead—in the end to discover I was the vic- tim of a well planned abduction. My abductors were two in number: a fat, sensual creature—a bouf- fon lawyer the principal, and my lying guide his worthy tool. The purpose of these men were at variance and the result was, I was given to that ter- rible creature, of whose horrible orgies the island is all ablaze. Margeret is, as thou knowst, of that sect who in all their festivals sacrifice human life. It was their purpose that I, in a similar manner, should be disposed. .....

.. ... . . . .. :...


RIGAUD. Mon Dieu ! Pauvre enfant, how thou hath suf- fered ! 


CLARISSE. And a merciful God hath been with me in all my trials !-I cannot well remember all the gruesome rites and savage ceremonial of that awful night, but well I remember, I was rescued from the sacrifice and my rescuer—was Dessalines. Fainting I was taken to the camp of my black befrienders, and at their hands, ever since, I have received, naught, save re- spect and kindliness. 


RIGAUD. And Dessalines? 


CLARISSE. To me, in all things, he was the chivalrous man! And on the day after my rescue, he told me I was at liberty to leave the camp, whenever it were safe for me to leave. Thou hath since known the times have been unsafe to travel. Now, that I hear the war is over and piece reigns again in Haïti, we will, dear brother, remain together. 


RIGAUD. Peace reign in Haiti !-Never! The blacks, the French and men of color can never live in peace, in Bert poole. Clarisse: “— Behold thy hand maiden kneeling in suppliance before thy altar!''


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