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

Act IV, Scene 2

ACT IV, SCENE 2. [Deep]

DESSALINES. O! Haiti!--Poor Lefebre, who was to have been thy betrothed, is, ere this, dead, and with him many brave patriots, who sacrificed all for France. As for us, dear one, we shall leave Haiti never to return! 


CLARISSE. Leave Haiti? 


RIGAUD. Aye, leave this sin accursed island; where all has gone wrong with the cause of Frenchmen! 


CLARISSE. Nay, I can not leave as yet. 


RIGAUD. Can not leave as yet—what meanst thou? 


CLARISSE. Brother, bear with me. I have made a vow in the dead silence of the night at the altar of the Virgin Mother, that I would dedicate my life to the con- version of my rescuer-I must keep my vow! 


RIGAUD. Convert Dessalines? 


CLARISSE. Aye, reclaim a soul, whose majesty alone is blem- ished, by the great shadow of its unbelief in our Christian faith. Thou hath seen his valor, and I- I have seen that 'neath his visage, dark as night- 'neath the rough and blunt exterior of a soldier- dwells a mind ripe for seeds of Christian good! In his fiercest moments, when fresh from the maddening exchange of blows; begrimmed with the cannon's smoke and bespattered with the crimson tear of life, he hath been to me, always, a courteous gentleman. And my woman's heart-unlike thy cold judicial mind—tells me no man, who hath proper respect for virtuous womanhood, can be evil to the core. My vow shall be kept, brother—my prayers shall be an- swered, and I shall yet live to see my labors rewarded! 


RIGAUD. Oh, Clarisse, can it be possible thou hath lost thy heart to this black barbarian! Tell me, girl! [Grasping her by the wrist.] Tell me!—ere the maddening thought makes me forget we are of the same blood! - Nay, thou art in more danger, than first I thought- forswear thy oath! And leave with me this night this hellish place! 


CLARISSE. It can not be! Thy work hath ended; mine hath but began. I see the bright light of hope shaping itself into a star of certainty.-I see, and with prophetic sight, my fate is linked inseparably with that of Dessalines!


RIGAUD. Ah! then, 'tis too true ;—thou loveth this man! 


CLARISSE. Aye, with all my heart; with all my soul—I love him! 








CLARISSE. At last, here is what my aching heart most needs— peace and utter forgetfulness of the past. Beside the sacred altar will I kneel, and consecrate my life to service for the holy church. How hard it is to leave the world, so young; so full of hope !—so rosy with the hue of promise-so desolate for me! For I cannot forget the past, so easily. Still, there is some pleasure in the thought, though at times, I was fearful he meant me not well—though rude in man- ners and uncouth his speech, I knew the tender feel- ings of a manly man dwelt beneath the rough exterior. First did I dread this man and sighed and prayed for my deliverance. But how soon the change! No fear or dread dwelt here; only a longing that I might be the means of softening all his woes—for surely sorrow, alone, could set the seal of ferocity upon his bravest acts. Though even in his fierceness is a charm, I wot not of, save it brings me nearer to my aim: to make him a convert to our holy church. Often times, have I wished him less rude of manners and less harsh in justice-never could I wish him more manly or more honorable.—For shame! Such thoughts within the shadow of the fate, that lies within. [Places hand on door of church.] Farewell, brother-farewell all earthly ties ! It is not so hard to bid all else farewell, as it is to bid my unfortunate love-forever farewell ! 


CLARISSE enters church. Singing ceases. Loud huzzas without. « Vive la liberte.” Enter DOMINIQUE with cook's apron, iron pot and soup ladle. 


DOMINIQUE. Lord, how I'm fallen! Instead of a mine insignia of office, I view the shadows of my mind's past greatness, apparelled in an old greasy cook's apron. Parbleu! A common hewer of wood and a drawer of water. Third chapter, second verse of— fall of man. In other words, I'm floundering like some wounded leviathan, in my own tureen, in the weakest kind of mule broth. “Dominique.”—Dessalines said, only yesterday. “Is at thy service sir,”— answered I, in my most dulcet tones. “Thou deserv- est promotion! Thou art destined to go up higher.” At last, thought I, my merits are discovered even to the eyes of this barbarian. Simply and with becoming humility, I answered: “Yes, sir.” “Yes,” said he, “shouldst thou continue to sell sugar out of the commissary stores and rum at so much per gill, thou wilt certainly go up higher.” And then, he made a fearful grimace-a ghastly expression of a man strangling with a rope about his neck. Ugh! The very thought makes me shudder!—Then Petou, that uncanny pipe stem;—the most ungrateful wretch never neglects an opportunity to address me : “Mon- seigneur, how's the bouillon?” “Monseigneur, thy counsel-no, I mean a well done potato with the jacket off, and mark ye, be quick about it.” “Monseigneur, what's the table d'hote today?” — Jackal! What a sad commentary on the tendency of man's ambition to always soar within the fell influence of a killing frost! And often times, when his head is resting on Olympus his pedal extremities are restings on the edge of a mighty tureen; and lo!-between the rising and setting of a single sun, he has sunk beneath the surface of its greasy contents. Ugh! Such thoughts ! 


[Enter PETOU.] 


PETOU. Hello! Old fellow!


DOMINIQUE. Old fellow !-Ye saints, how I am fallen !-Old fel- low! It has come to this. Old fellow! Saith ye? Hello-creature! 


PETOU. Eh ! 


DOMINIQUE. Eh me, no ehs! Thou bastard offspring of my generosity! I have no stomach for thy wit, and mark ye well, Petou, thy levity will yet land thee in hell. 


PETOU. Perchance, thou'll keep me company there. 


DOMINIQUE. Keep thee company? Aye, there be more of thy sort who form the paving stones of hell, for crushed greatness to wearily tread upon. 


PETOU. Dominique, I regret my hasty speech, for all hath gone wrong with thee. Thou hath tried thy ambi- tion and found it worth not a sou. 


DOMINIQUE. Thou canst not decry it, for it enters not into the comprehension of thy brain, Petou, to master great things. Poor weak brain, Petou-poor weak brain.


PETOU. [Aside.] He is always talking of himself. Listen! - I have a scheme. 


DOMINIQUE. A scheme! Aye, a thin man for plotting, the strong to defend ; so saith my book. Out upon thy schemes! To this unhappy state were I brought by thy schemes. 


PETOU. Riches lie within thy grasp. 




PETOU. Hath not Dessalines promised the contents of this church, to his soldiers. 


DOMINIQUE. Rob a church! Nay, tempter. 


PETOU. Just think of it, golden candle-sticks and other valuables, too numerous to mention. 


DOMINIQUE. Mention it not!


PETOU. I'm told the chalices are golden and studded with rich gems—Wouldst thou the rude soldiers of Des- salines possessed these? 




PETOU. I've seen a crosier of solid gold and several statues in the same metal. 

DOMINIQUE. Philosophy, where art thou! 


PETOU. Besides, the collection boxes. One for the widows and afflicted women- 


DOMINIQUE. Peace, Petou!-peace. 


PETOU. —And five boxes for the orphans. 


DOMINIQUE. And I an orphan too.


PETOU. How fortunate; both orphans; ever since our parents died. 


DOMINIQUE. What means wouldst thou devise to get the spoils, should I enter in thy-scheme? 


PETOU. We will rob the thieves and thereby escape the sacrilege of robbing the church. 


DOMINIQUE. Conscience-Oh! conscience be still ! 


PETOU. Now listen to my plan. By this time tomorrow this church will be thoroughly sacked. Great stores of the best things of the chase will be stored away in the tent of Dessalines; drunk with wine and surfeited with the excitements of the day, everybody's slumbers will be sound; then with a steady hand and swift foot we'll 


Enters DESSALINES deep in thought. Unnoticed DOMINIQUE and PETOU steal of stage. 


DESSALINES. Out upon this folly! What time hath Dessalines amid the sweet smell of battle;-amid the clang of arms and bloody debate, for thoughts of woman! Still, think I must;-an all absorbing thought. Even in the combat's fierce embrace; when the mind should deal, alone, with stroke and counter stroke; charge and counter charge; advance and well directed retreat—with the tactics of war and not the whims and fancies of sickly sentiment, thoughts of this maiden quiets mad joy; dethrones reason from her high empire and makes me study mercy! What fetich hath this maid ?—For I have heard of spells and charms these Franks doth use, to still the will and subserve their ends.--Last night, in the stillness of my tent, strove I hard to gain repose, when thoughts of her, forgetful of self, made me sigh to think—thought she as well of me. Sleep came not to my heavy eyes and dizzy brain; but like some ship upon a restless sea, tossed I in fearful uneasiness! Tired nature, at last, filled my mind with dreamy de- lirium and witching phantasy. It seemed she were mine, body and soul; we were inseparable—as one. She thought for me and I for her; I lived for her and she lived—for me! And when she sighed, I sighed, and it rent my soul with woe, to think my sorrows made her sad!—Yet seemed there joy in all of this; ecstatic bliss that raised my mind to greater things- made me forget Dessalines was fierce, not sad; and found only joy at the Frankish death !—It did appear, she whispered to me : “ Farewell ; we must part, for- ever."--Oh! What waves of sadness swept o'er my soul. I begged her--aye, Dessalines humbled to the dust—begged her tearfully not to go; for life without her, were as day without a sun! Oh! hellish treachery to my country's needs—I knelt and wept.-Aye, from these eyes that in infancy never shed a tear and in manhood, hath made many foe blanch before the depth of hatred in their glare!---I bedewed her outstretched hands with the briny gush of my emotion. A dream!--'Tis true; but in a dream, too much! Whence this dream, from what source, within, upheaves this great volcano? What treachery is this? What spell, I ask my heart, hath made me captive to this maiden's wiles, must make me pause in thought, and thinking-free myself! I would be free, and yet - I would be free. 




CLARISSE kneeling before the altar. DESSALINES leaning in thought behind pillar. At first sound of CLARISSE's voice, he starts from pillar as if to interrupt her. 


CLARISSE. Oh! Mother of mercy, behold thy handmaiden kneeling in suppliance before thy altar! From childhood—aye, with my first childish prattle, have I besought Thy kindly intercession,—to come to thee, when sorely tried and heavily burdened, have I been taught. Thus come I to thee now. This heart I give thee, is hardly mine to give.—Like those little insects with gilded wings have fluttered in the alluring glare of worldly light, and like them, have I fallen a victim to my own incautiousness. An orphan child, my brother ere this in France; what solace is there, save recourse to prayer, the balance of this life.- Ah! When first I met Dessalines, little thought I, love—such love as mine—would supplant every other affection. I feared him and yet—I studied to assuage all his woes, and lift, perchance, from mind and soul its sinful gloom. Little saw I the end-he still an unbeliever and I his christian love! Forgive, oh, God! the sacrilegious act, who from childhood always breathed Thy name with reverence, should thus forget a duty, higher than that to man, and plight my faith to one who loves not Thee.-Oh! Dessalines! couldst thou but believe, how different all might have been! Since it is not to be, the world, for me, loses all its attractiveness, and I shall end my days in the holy peace of this cloister, where from morn to night, my prayer shall be for thee. Accept then, Holy Spouse, thy handmaiden, who vows to spend the remainder of her days 


[DESSALINES steps forward. 




CLARISSE. Dessalines!


DESSALINES. Aye, sorely wounded dove, 'tis I. 


CLARISSE. Heardst thou all? 


DESSALINES. Aye, what thou saidst and what my heart hath, already, told me.—Start not, maiden! The chain that binds thee to me is riveted in my heart !-A heart, 'tis true, made of baser metal than thine own, gentle one ;-a heart wherein the seeds of kindness, love and and truth are but newly planted, canst not bear fruit compared with thine. But still—a heart that will ever prove true to thee as, it has proved to the cause of liberty. 


CLARISSE. Heardst thou my prayer, for thy conversion? 


DESSALINES. Thy prayermaye; and methinks, the great good God, to whom thou prayed, hath also heard! 


CLARISSE. Ave Maria! Can it be possible, that at last-at last, thou believeth! 


DESSALINES. With all my heart, at last-I believe ! Here came I, in the dead silence of early morn, ere the dewy grass had met the rising sun, to meditate in the quiet of this solemn place.—Review the story of my struggles, reverses and ensanguined victories.- To meditate on the emptiness of life and the vexed problems which have rendered my eyes sleepless for many nights. To seek, perhaps, in the deep philosophy of cause and effect; to invade the tangled web of matter with the keen rapier of a fearless hand. To bring certainty from doubt and, mayhap, strengthen my barbarous opposition to God's will. Thought I, here, in this temple, raised to superstitions God by the greed of man ;--a huge subterfuge to enslave women's whims and man's inborn weakness,—will I, Dessalines, without a qualm of conscience, sternly root out from mind and soul the seed, so securely sown therein by thee! Only yesterday I decided to turn this temple over to the barbarous hands of my rude soldiery. Impotent man! Aye, and I would stand and calmly view the work, and gloat in diabolic pleasure at the butchery of the priest, and the cries of the affrighted nuns, and find music in the groans of the slaughtered dead! Start not, maiden-reason had left its throne, in its stead, frenzy ran riot incrimsoned with the lifeblood of nobler thought,—by stern rage, bereft of reason, forgot I, that even in the darkest hours of our enslavement ranked with the stupid ox and patient ass, here beside yon altar was one place where the humble slave could kneel side by side with the proud master. Here at least there were no slaves; no masters, save the one Master of all mankind! Oh! Maiden, no longer do the accursed thoughts, of the past, find lodgment in my brain; today I have achieved my greatest victory :-Dessalines conquers himself! 


CLARISSE. [Springing to his arms.] Oh! Dessalines. 


DESSALINES. Clarisse, thou hath been more potent than the Franks.—Thou hath outgeneralled me. Bugle call without. Cheers. Sound of muskets. 


Enter PIERRE. 


DESSALINES. What means that firing? 


PIERRE. If it please thee, chief; Dominique and Petou were caught entering the commissary stores, and I had them shot. 


DESSALINES. Such were my orders. 'Tis well. 


PIERRE. Chief, the troops are without, and impatient to enter here.


DESSALINES. Thou needst not remind me of my promise. Go, tell them enter! [Exit PIERRE.] Let me look in- to thy sweet face, dear one; perchance the last time on earth. CLARISSE. Nay, speak not thus; remember I have prayed for thee! 


DESSALINES. Prayed for me.—Ah, yes, then all is well. [Bugle within. Enter troops with Haitien flag. Range themselves to left of DESSALINES.] Friends and comrades of my many battles! You have followed me in defeat and now in victory. I promised ye, this day, the spoils of battle well contested, within the portals of this church. I promised, ---mark ye, Dessalines never breaks his word or falters in his duty—the riches of this sanctuary. They are yours ! Take them, but ere you engage in your work of riot and ruin,-slay Dessalines where now he stands! 




DESSALINES. Your love doth conquor me. Then let us remember that freedom must always be inspired by—


CLARISSE. Religion, love and mercy. 


DESSALINES. 'Tis well then, that the religion which fostered in the slave the love of liberty and gave him the cour- age to contest the power of might—with the weapons of right, shall be hereafter--the proud heritage of every Haitien! 


SOLDIERS. Vive la liberté! 


DESSALINES, Fraternité et egalité! 




SOLDIERS march, singing Marseillaise. Return to center. Curtain rung down on last verse. 




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