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THE HAUNTING OF AMBASSADOR JEFFERSON, ACT 4 Cast of Characters Sally Hemings: Slave woman aged 16, owned by Thomas Jefferson, serving in Paris as house servant and chamber servant to Jefferson daughter, Polly. John Adams: American ambassador to England; known to be residing in London, his appearance here is a mystery. Thomas Jefferson: American ambassador to France. Shade of Martha Jefferson: Ghost of Mrs. Jefferson, deceased wife of Thomas. First Voice: English speaking collaborator of French revolutionaries. Second Voice: A French revolutionary. Shade of Abraham Lincoln: Ghost of America’s 16th President; dressed entirely in black, with knee length cape, top hat and cane; featureless though bearded. Setting Various locations around pre-revolutionary Paris, France. Time Act begins late July 4, 1789 - ten days before fall of the Bastille; ends near midnight. Synopsis Sally Hemings starts at appearance of John Adams who claims to be responding to her summons (mysteriously delivered.) Thomas Jefferson, American ambassador to France, emerges from residence at the urging of Adams. Shade of Martha Jefferson, late wife of Thomas, appears and leads Jefferson (who follows alone) down the broad Champs Elysess and eventually to a bower in the Place de Concorde, an extensive park in central Paris. Hunkered in the dark bower, the couple overhear a pair of conspirators plotting escalation of revolutionary activities. After their departure, Shade of Martha Jefferson warns Thomas Jefferson to flee France with their daughters and servants before imminent Reign of Terror. She indicates approaching Shade of Abraham Lincoln and disappears. Scene 1 SETTING: Night outside the main entrance to Jefferson residence, Hotel de Langeac, on the Champ Elysess. Bottom stage right is a wrought iron city gate known as Grille de Chaillot. It is partially covered with a climbing plant now in full flower. There is a lamppost left of gate. The hotel is two stories, set on a shallow slope, at the bottom of which is a wrought iron fence. A dozen steps lead from street to the entrance. Breaking off from the stairway to the left is a walkway leading to a garden at the end of the hotel. There the path winds back behind a tree. AT RISE: SALLY HEMINGS emerges from hotel entrance bearing a candle. She quietly closes door and quickly descends to garden path, which she walks halfway to the tree. JOHN ADAMS emerges like an apparition from behind tree, startling her. SALLY HEMINGS (Speaks while walking backward to far side of stair, coming to a halt. JOHN ADAMS advances in pace with her.) What figure lurks there in the shadow? Shade or flesh, declare yourself! If flesh be not deceived, I’m but a girl who serves this house and carry naught of value on my person. But alas, if shade! JOHN ADAMS (Continues gliding advance until on same stair as SALLY, where he stops.) Nonsense. The girl who serves this house must surely know who has been summoned to it. Adams. John to be precise, and shadow serves as cloak and prudent mask to prying eyes unpried. SALLY Mr. Adams! So good of you to come. Wouldst sit awhile? ADAMS By Heaven, no, Sally. I yet perplex myself if this be chimera or fact. These months have seen me not yet housed where I had yearned to be, with Tom left here to tend affairs of state more suited to his temper in situ a place of Cleopatran baths ADAMS (Cont.) and dainties, welcome land of anything that’s new. I left it. Now beseeching dark (from you!) bids restoration to what I cared to never see again. SALLY How can you doubt? ADAMS Well do I see the Champ Elysess, the Grille de Chaillot barring ingress even as it bears recline of fleur-de-lys which paints the air on such a night as though bid foppery while bringing somber news. SALLY None more somber than this moment’s errand. You will see. If only Jemmy had come, too. ADAMS Saucy girl, don’t you know your place? That’s Mr. Madison to you. Again I say we both are met in nothing more than dream. SALLY Dreams indeed are what have brought us here, though not conceived in torments of your head or mine. No, Mr. Jefferson invites the phantoms that parade this night. Dreams! I shiver to my soles remembering the shouts and fevered stammers from which I could SALLY (Cont.) not wake him, driven from his bed distraught as Onesimus who fled far Colossae to apostolic duty. ADAMS To this place? SALLY Yes. To sights my sixteen years are not prepared to deal with. Many times have I been summoned out since first his cries propelled me from his side. ADAMS I’ll not pose queries on that count. What dreadful thing conspires to prompt entreaty from a slave girl to my ear? SALLY A spirit, sir. ADAMS Whose spirit, girl? Speak! SALLY I can’t. I daresn’t say the word aloud. I only know he has to come. You told him, didn’t you? Like I asked you to. And see you do not call me slave, sir! Slave! This land prohibits such barbarity. My brother, James, and I discuss it often since my arrival. Why should we not take SALLY (Cont.) presented opportunity and leave the service of our Mr. Jefferson when he returns him home, daughters in tow? ADAMS He will come. I daresay I heard the garden door. Unless I mistake, that is his footstep crisp upon the winding walk. Ah, there you are, Tom. A close night don’t you think? THOMAS JEFFERSON (Walks from garden to stairway.) Good fourth July. Please say again, John. What brings you here? ADAMS Visions. This girl appears distressed by apparitions; you, the party of concern. She thought it meet that I should summon you. Naught else. JEFFERSON What meaning, Sally? Do Polly or Patsy know of this? SALLY Nobody knows but us and maybe Mr. Madison. JEFFERSON The hour is late. The waxing moon takes liberty to step JEFFERSON (Cont.) his branching way along the avenue and taunt such girlish fancies, gait afloat to rise above the ministries of state. ADAMS Diana’s paramour is not alone in such pursuit on France’s boulevards where every yokel thinks he knows what best objective should be served, till liberty itself’s at liberty to take its own. JEFFERSON How say you, John, when brackish plumes of tea still belch the edge of Boston Harbor, shells and bayonets still litter New England fields? We have our Tree of Liberty while theirs seeks root to split the walls of privilege guard to opulence and oligarch. I’ve seen it myself on strolls about the town and countryside: unequal division of coin and property sustains minorities of birth and station as employer to the flower of France retained in servitude and taxation; the rest are left to beg. Such wealth in few hands held, in holding, press those who do not have, to means desperate else continued destitution absolute. ADAMS I take back what I’ve said: you can speak more than three sentences together after all. This is no Philadelphia, Tom. It is the beast itself that coils and indicates what punishment is meet, not justice throned. Leviathan straight from Hobbes stirs even now in Paris and abroad, a veritable sea at yonder gate and who will let! JEFFERSON Aye, it does. And like the sea its many hands ply blind its will to wield, though not so blind machine as balls and bombs on battlefield, still blind and like as not to mete the fate of enemy to cordial friend as well as tyrant. Aye, this stalking tragedy now must run Achilles to his Hector, vaunt, victorious while shield is lowered, prey to less blind shaft while others dispense the topless towers, seized of hope renewing that which is most good and virtuous on this very ground, else moved a new Aeneas founding freedom in fresh soil. ADAMS We speak of anarchy, not revolution. This people so long ruled, are not prepared for self-rule yet, as our New World breakers ADAMS (Cont.) of the wood - if even they be so. JEFFERSON You yourself advocated valiantly such clause in mutual Declaration. Fifteen years gone today since life and sacred honor sworn, a fledgling nation wrought. What has changed? I affirm the tragedy so precipitous a leap will occasion here. The Marquis Lafayette has heard my mind on this. He does not see the carnage summoned to be unlike our own. But think of it: freedom! not alone some purview of our native continent. Do you suppose our brief experiment, that just as lief conduct itself across the Moon or in depths of Fingal’s cave, concludes the matter? Foul wretchedness persists all over Europe in instances without number. Liberty of the whole earth depends on issue of this contest. Could ever such a prize be won with no little innocent blood? Time and truth will rescue and embalm the memories of such martyrs, while posterity enjoys that very liberty for which these would not hesitate to offer life. Sooner I would that half the earth be plunged JEFFERSON (Cont.) in desolation than see failure of the cause. Were but one Adam and one Eve preserved in every country and left free, it would be better than as it now is. ADAMS God save us all! SALLY God save, indeed, and forgive you both! For just as Mr. Jefferson was finishing, I saw the eyes of that cat statue move and shadows lean from every side like devils, some with pennants and flags, one red like blood holding a yellow silhouette shaped like headstones. Hist! The shade I told you of comes gliding through the gate as if the bars were only shades themselves. See how she approaches, gaze on Mr. Jefferson, with sparkling sash, candle held before. (Enter SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON stage right, seeming to pass through a groups of iron bars covered with fleur de lys. She proceeds during succeeding conversation at a slow gliding pace, face turned toward THOMAS JEFFERSON until passing the stairway. From then on, stares straight ahead with blank expression, until disappearing stage left.) ADAMS Steady, Tom. I see it, too. JEFFERSON Is it not like my beloved Martha? ADAMS As you are to yourself. Why do you stand amazed, man? She makes as if to pass on. Hold, spirit! JEFFERSON She does not pause. Sally, John, from here I go alone. Fie, do not restrain me! (Exits stage left quickly in pursuit of SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON.) (CURTAIN) (END OF SCENE) Scene 2 SETTING: Night outside an entrance to Place de Louis XV, a large park near the center of Paris. A narrow street runs through center stage, passing over an arched bridge spanning RC to LC. The wall of a modest church extends from URC, to UL where there is a set of closed double doors. Stage right is occupied by moonlit street running from UR to RC, intersecting C street. Downstage is occupied by park gardens separated from C by wrought iron fence which has a gate open at the right end of bridge. A copse of high-trimmed, dense trees are below the bridge. AT RISE: Enter THOMAS JEFFERSON and gliding SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFESON upper right, approaching park entrance. JEFFERSON Again: no guard to mark our progress here. Where is the Watch? Again you don’t respond, addressed these seven times. Seven times seventy, there’s no assurance of reply or silence obdurate. If dream is what besets me, better done anon; JEFFERSON (Cont.) and if the night has truly called this shade to lead down Paris streets to Place Louis, then all the more, no need to multiply past sorrows with renewed perplexity. In either case, no further will I go. Float onward. I am quit of this charade. (SHADE continues through gate toward copse of trees. JEFFERSON walks to summit of bridge, then hurries back to join SHADE in recess of trees.) SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Shout not, but catch me up - I cannot stay. Follow to the orchard’s border where night’s cloak may hide us. See, I dim the candle’s flame. Do not rush so, I am here. And see you touch me not. JEFFERSON It is you! It is. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON But isn’t that why you came? JEFFERSON Don’t mock me, dear one. How are you so fair! No trace of wasting illness haunts you here to drain the honey of your breath or bosom. How star-like, your hazel eyes, returning fast my gaze, as though a new made bride you could JEFFERSON (Cont.) dash off, forsake this lonely place, discard whatever mission prompts you, as when we two broke from abandoned carriage. Through driving snow we took unharnessed steeds upmountain to Monticello’s waiting walls. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON The mount did not seem very “cello” on that ride. Your horse came near to miring on the road. JEFFERSON Twenty-four inches deep! With only eight more miles to home, it seemed a little thing to take familiar mountain track, ascent that wide hushed world. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Ah, Tom, you never feared to leave the well worn road! A wide hushed world it was, that forest filling up with snow. I never saw it more alive than then. You with your stallion, I with mare, toiling through stumble and snag, a fright for limping hare and flapping owl, to unseen clearing’s edge. Brave Monticello emerged as though by curtain drawn of starting sleet: my home revealed. JEFFERSON A lightless home with servants cabined fast in private hibernations. We let them sleep. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON I never told you that Old George appeared while you were finishing at the stables. JEFFERSON No. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Yes, there he was of sudden, like some patient holy man. I started worse than the hare! He smiled and asked if I was well. Perhaps we should like to call Angela? JEFFERSON I’m glad that you did not. The night was ours. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Oh, yes. Still he took a moment to cross the room and slyly show where I could find some wine if it would suit, touched forehead and was gone. JEFFERSON I thought I found that wine myself! Oh, well. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON I think you knew the hiding place. You came in seconds after, silhouetted like some totem resurrected from that ground. JEFFERSON And you, as door closed tight behind me blinked as though a story figure conjured to unexpected life, your clothing still disheveled with exertion, poker gripped like Dido’s willow wafting me inside. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON In such a night I think bold Porphyro spied dreaming Madeline supine and bore her as his peerless bride across the moor. JEFFERSON In such a night sweet Martha asked if Tom might somehow get the fire started. Aye, how you tossed your rakish curls as eager as a mare watching the blazon breathed to life responsive wood to my beseeching hands. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON So happy we were. Yet the wine we shared in sheer delight will not distill us here. Touch me not! My mission is not renewal of earthly bliss. JEFFERSON Naught else do I desire. The oath you asked as Death enforced departure, I keep. No other shall I marry. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Oh, Tom. JEFFERSON Such hours succeeding silence unbrookable presses mere thought to its walls. Each treasured poet forsook his art to solace or illuminate – sweet tongued Ossipon and Homer alike seemed schoolboys making sport, Milton more so. High tragedy alone assayed to mirror like a troubled pool my grief and horror at such sundering of joined soul. Alas, even there: no angel to mend my halt. The hills called me out and I trod them, often alone, sometimes with little Patsy who, sharing her portion of common loss, found greater genius than scripture or blotless bard to summon my spirit back to semblance of life. Even now, I stand ready to seek what means… SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON It is not to be, dear Tom. Not yet. Listen, for time is short. A pair of men elude by dark and separate paths the Watch’s eye, approach the border of this bower whose spray now shelters our exchanges tender. Stay! I snuff my flame. Attend what you will hear. (FIRST VOICE enters stage left, walks to bridge summit. SECOND VOICE enters stage right and meets him there.) FIRST VOICE Hist! Something moved as we came up. It’s gone. SECOND VOICE Bonsoir, “Jacque.” Jacque? FIRST VOICE What do you say? Oh. The greeting. Of course it’s me and that is you. Forget the coded messaging. Speak English as agreed, to thwart any unseen ear. SECOND VOICE To thwart any unseen ear, Jacque! As agreed? FIRST VOICE Very well: Jacque. There I said it, Jacque! I have no patience for forced intrigues and handshakes. Have you the purse? SECOND VOICE Safe, here. What of gunpowder? FIRST VOICE First the money. Ah, that weighs right the palm. Too dark to count it now. I trust you, Jacque! About the cargo that so interests you: delivery has been suspended. Orders. The way I hear it, no one thinks the stuff is needed now. Them that’s got it’s sitting pretty fine behind walls four feet thick. With shipments not so easy to secure... well, you should understand that part of it. FIRST VOICE (Cont.) No looking at me that way, Mr. Jacque. Fair is fair. Intelligence is what you asked for; this is solid as it gets. If you want powder for your plots and riots or whatever else: the Arsenal at Bastille. Not sure they’ll want to give it up to you. “Ten barrels for the riots, sir!” coupled with “Simon dit!” or “S’il vous plait!” perhaps... SECOND VOICE Mon Dieu! I do not speak of vases and stones! This riot, as you call it, is but a splash across the dam. Behind it is revolution. You laugh. At me. Our cause. Perhaps that’s well. FIRST VOICE I do not laugh at you, my friend, nor your cause which moves as just as any in this world of servicers and their string pullers. Why not try to call account of them and theirs? A little trouble to them might wake a few. SECOND VOICE It is no gentle remonstrance we seek but revolution, I say. The council waits the outcome of our meeting, and what bring you? Futility and proffered platitudes. Regard our outcast Goshen where no house is without its dead while oligarch in Theban SECOND VOICE (Cont.) splendor remains unjudged. My only boy whose eyes were bright from birth, was taken from his mother’s arms for stealing bread. Fourteen years of age and yet they sent him to the galleys: he who never harmed or cursed now toils beneath the whip, one face among a tide of bobbing heads, mere breakers foamed before the feet of tyrant, merchant, God unpitying. To that, cry, “Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!” FIRST VOICE You must be mad to seek such things. Think! Countless dead you summon from their quick. Your France is Europe’s foremost to enact reforms. Could not those innocent heads you bless more meekly inherit that New Earth you plot to seize? SECOND VOICE Such musings occupy indeed the meek among us, cannot prevail against that monster Time, ally of the status quo, numbing brief outrage which must be taken at her crest to loose the grip of clinging tyranny. Heads, you say! Aye, they are forfeit, tribute to coming reigns that oust and burn the frame of privilege most rank, till it be buried as by flood. For that revolution there SECOND VOICE (Cont.) are never sufficient heads, nor blood to tide. FIRST VOICE ‘Tis from your heart you speak. I see it now. ‘Gainst monster Time, you pose another: reign you call it, aye, but one of Terrors loosed. Take back your coinage. Here. Such gold like salt has lost its savor. I repent me of this, and say goodbye. May you yet do the same. (FIRST VOICE drops money bag and exits stage left.) SECOND VOICE He is gone then, just as well. May he hie himself with haste in gentle exile, lest he should be found and that hour is his last. Repent? I? Nay, but take the gold he drops and keep it as a prey to what’s afoot. (SECOND VOICE picks up money bag and proceeds down bridge, hesitates, then goes up street R and exits UR.) JEFFERSON: Most sobering, this, and as we feared in council. Such forces must not usurp and lead the cause. I’ll urge the Marquis anew: gradual steps, positions acquired through stealth and reason, good will… SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON: You cannot stop it, Tom, though persuasively SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON (Cont.) contended. Oh. The next visitation approaches trailing curtains of what must be. Attend. JEFFERSON: Another? (SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN enters scene DR and stops at gate.) SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON: Yes. Our time together lent untimely stay, now closes like the lid of Eremite’s dreaming eye, proved not eternal, nor yet forever closed. Remember me. To Polly and Patsy must you attend, and James, Sally, the rest. Take them from this place. JEFFERSON: (Turns to see approaching SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, as SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON vanishes) I’ll not bid thee adieu! This latest shade I see approach, detached a shadow from its fellows as though a very tower lurched along the garden, gaunt though stately meined. Martha! Are you so soon gone? And I, once more distractedly deprived, said not adieu. Adieu, adieu! Fled is that music leaving me here with stars and blooms less graced. JEFFERSON (Contd.) (Slowly turns to waiting SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN) Are you the spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me? You answer not, but shroud in silhouette with downward outstretched hand on silver crested cane and somber head bowed, prodding like some prairie lawyer calling witness to deeds whose trial reveals when arguments commence. Beloved sprite you drive from me. Nevertheless, lead on. (SHADE proceeds towards JEFFERSON, passes him, and exits DL. JEFFERSON turns and begins to follow SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.) (CURTAIN) (END OF ACT) previously unpublished © 2015 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection