Two Romantic Plays:
The Rebels of Nantucket
A Spectrum Productions Book
This volume is out of print.
Scene Five of The Rebels of Nantucket
(Thursday, June 2. Morning. A lane in Sherburne. Sunny day. MADELEINE
is sitting on a bench. She is deep in thought. COLONEL STARBUCK enters.
He is walking slowly, reading a book with great attention. He stops,
struck by a passage, and, lifting his head to reflect upon it, he
sees MADELEINE. For a few moments he looks at her—she has not
seen him—with evident admiration. He hesitates to intrude on
her, but finally decides he will)
MADELEINE. Colonel Starbuck! Forgive me, I didn't see you. (She gives him her hand)
STARBUCK. I was loth to disturb you in the very good company of your thoughts.
MADELEINE. My thoughts today are like unpleasant guests in the house.
STARBUCK. I'm sorry to hear you say so, on such a fine morning.
MADELEINE. It is a fine morning, isn't it. Will you sit by me? No—you are undoubtedly on your way to a political meeting.
STARBUCK. Not in the least. I was reading—strolling—raising my hat to my neighbors . . . I will accept your invitation.
(She smiles; he sits down)
MADELEINE. What is your book, Colonel? I know! A treatise on fortifying exposed harbors.
STARBUCK. No. Guess again.
MADELEINE. The poems of some refined and ailing gentlewoman of Connecticut.
MADELEINE. I give up.
STARBUCK. A manifesto.
MADELEINE. Ah, that's dangerous.
STARBUCK. More than you think. It came in the same bottom that brought you to Nantucket two days ago.
MADELEINE. Come, tell me what it is.
STARBUCK. Are you not afraid of seditious literature?
MADELEINE. As a Frenchwoman I am immune.
STARBUCK. Ah, you are lucky to be the citizen of an old, stable nation. I believe the French have not engaged in civic broils since—let me see—when Louis XIV was a boy—and then the tumult was quickly settled. We must be a singularly restless people.
MADELEINE. Because you don't know how to be slaves.
STARBUCK. So writes my author, Mr. Jefferson.
MADELEINE. Read to me, Colonel. I am surprisingly tolerant and discreet.
STARBUCK. Still, remember that a man needn't subscribe to what he reads. A man may read the words of an enemy in order the better to foil him.
MADELEINE (laughing). I understand.
STARBUCK (leafing through the book). Here's some passable rhetoric. “The common feelings of human nature must be surrendered up before his Majesty's subjects here can be persuaded to believe that they hold their political existence at the will of a British Parliament. Shall these governments be dissolved, their property annihilated, and their people reduced to a state of nature, at the imperious breath of a body of men whom they never saw, in whom they never confided, and over whom they have no powers of punishment or removal, let their crimes against the American public be ever so great? Can any one reason be assigned why one hundred and sixty thousand electors in the island of Great Britain should give law to four millions in the States of America, every individual of whom is equal to every individual of them in virtue, in understanding, and in bodily strength? Were this to be admitted, instead of being a free people, as we have hitherto supposed and mean to continue ourselves, we should suddenly be found the slaves not of one but of one hundred and sixty thousand tyrants.”
MADELEINE. Ah, I like that! Who is this flaming orator? Will you confess that he is a friend of yours? Why not? An enemy of the state might have been one's friend in the days of innocence.
STARBUCK. It is God's truth that I don't know the man.
MADELEINE. Do you think he is in jail?
STARBUCK. No; for I've been told that he is presently a delegate in Philadelphia. And were I a rebel of his complexion, were I, I would embrace him for these words.
MADELEINE. You show a fine sense, Colonel, in the estimate of your opponents. What else does your interesting firebrand say?
STARBUCK. Many wicked things—oh, if I were the king, I should not sleep easy until I did see Mr. Jefferson in fetters. For example: “By an act passed in the fifth year of the reign of his late Majesty, King George the Second, an American subject is forbidden to make a hat for himself of the fur which he has taken, perhaps, on his own soil—an instance of despotism to which no parallel can be produced in the most arbitrary ages of British history.”
MADELEINE. Stop! Here I think your Mr. Henderson begins to foam at the mouth! What? Not to be allowed to make your own hat is a piece of brutality without parallel?
STARBUCK. I shouldn't have read you this passage. It is followed by a weightier one on the manufacture of iron.
MADELEINE. No, no more. Your hero must be permitted at once to sew his own beaver hat, whereupon he will turn into as good a Tory as—yourself.
STARBUCK. Well, he does allow himself to be carried away now and then. However, I beg you, Mademoiselle, to listen to one more passage.
MADELEINE. Very well.
STARBUCK. “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was, unhappily, introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to effect this, by prohibitions and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his Majesty's negative, thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few British corsairs to the lasting interests of the American States and the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this infamous practice.” Does this not touch you? “This infamous practice.” Such words are quite beyond faction—we'll say no more about the beaver hats.
MADELEINE. Had you the opportunity, wouldn't you engage in the slave trade yourself, Colonel Starbuck?
STARBUCK. I—in the slave trade? I would die—no—I would kill—before I would let a man be handled like a bale of merchandise.
MADELEINE. But what of the pleasure of being waited on by a band of glistening blacks?
STARBUCK (deeply grieved). Is this you speaking, Mademoiselle?
(MADELEINE places a reassuring hand on STARBUCK's arm)
MADELEINE. God forbid. (She pauses) I was quoting your nephew.
STARBUCK (smiling). So that was the subject of your conversation yesterday—the slave trade!
MADELEINE. Or rather, trade in general. Nicholas is very gifted that way.
STARBUCK. Indeed he is. But give me leave to assure you that, like myself, Nicholas would raise his tent in Muscovy or turn heathen before he would engage in the buying and selling of slaves.
MADELEINE (she is close to tears and replies in a whisper). I am not so sure. (They sit silent for a while. Then, impulsively, MADELEINE takes a pencil and a scrap of paper out of her purse, and writes a few words).
MADELEINE. Please give him this for me. Oh, you may read it, I'm not so eloquent as your author.
STARBUCK. Is that all?
MADELEINE (low). Yes.
STARBUCK. Nicholas is one of our best, Madeleine. A plain dealer and a gallant fighter. He lost father and mother when he was a boy. Perhaps he wants the softer counsels of a woman to complete him as a man. But he is generous, quick-witted, exuberant in imagination. We shall need men like him. They will be our especial glory.
MADELEINE. Or your particular downfall.
STARBUCK (downcast). No. It must not be. You don't know him, Madeleine. He needs you.
(He tries to return the scrap of paper to her; she refuses with a gesture, and moves quickly away.)