The Emperor Jones
by Eugene O'Neill
The Emperor Jones
A Cockney Trader
AN OLD NATIVE WOMAN
A Native Chief
Adherents of Lem
The Little Formless Fears; Jeff; The Negro convicts;
The Prison Guard; The Planters
The Slaves; The Congo Witch-Doctor; The Crocodile God.
The action of the play takes place
on an island in the West Indies
as yet not self-determined by white Marines.
The form of native government
is, for the time being, an empire.
SCENE-The audience chamber in the palace of the Emperor-a
spacious, high-ceilinged room with bare, white-washed walls. The floor
is of white tiles. In the rear, to the left of center, a wide archway
giving out on a portico with white Pillars. The palace is evidently
situated on high ground for beyond the portico nothing can be seen but
a vista of distant hills, their summits crowned with thick groves of
palm trees. In the right wall, center, a smaller arched doorway leading
to the living quarters of the palace. The room is bare of furniture
with the exception of one huge chair made of uncut wood which stands at
center, its back to rear. This is very apparently the Emperor's throne.
It is painted a dazzling, eye-smiting scarlet. There is a brilliant
orange cushion on the seat and another smaller one is placed on the
floor to serve as a footstool. Strips of matting, dyed scarlet, lead
from the foot of the throne to the two entrances.
It is late afternoon but the sunlight still blazes yellowly beyond
the portico and there is an oppressive burden of exhausting heat in the
As the curtain rises, a native Negro woman sneaks in cautiously from
the entrance on the right. She is very old, dressed in cheap calico,
bare-footed, a red bandana handkerchief covering all but a few stray
wisps of white hair. A bundle bound in colored cloth is carried over
her shoulder on the end of a stick. She hesitates beside the doorway,
peering back as if in extreme dread of being discovered. Then she
begins to glide noiselessly, a step at a time, toward the doorway in
the rear. At this moment,
SMITHERS appears beneath the portico.
SMITHERS is a tall, stoop-shouldered man about forty. His bald
head, perched on a long neck with an enormous Adam's apple, looks like
an egg. The troPics have tanned his naturally pasty face with its
small, sharp features to a sickly yellow, and native rum has painted
his poinJed nose to a startling red. His little, washy-blue eyes are
redrimmed and dart about him like a ferret's. His expression is one of
unscrupulous meanness, cowardly and dangerous. He is dressed in a worn
Tiding suit of dirty 'white drill, puttees, spIers, and wears a white
cork helmet. A cartridge belt with an automatic revolver is around his
waist. He carries a riding whip in his hand. He sees the woman and
stops to watch her susPiciously. Then, making up his mind, he steps
quickly on tiptoe into the room. The woman, looking back over her
shoulder continually, does not see him until it is too late. W
hen she does SMITHERS springs forward and grabs her firmly by
the shoulder. She struggles to get away, fiercely but silently.
SMITHERS [Tightening his grasp-roughly]: Easy! None o’
that, me birdie. You can't wriggle out now. I got me 'oaks on yer.
WOMAN [Seeing the uselessness of struggling, gives way to
frantic terror, and sinks to the ground, embracing his knees
supplicatingly,]: No tell him! No tell him, Mister!
SMITHERS [With great curiosity]: Tell 'im?
scornfully.] Oh, you mean 'is bloamin' Majesty. What's the gaime,
any 'ow? What are you sneakin' away for? Been stealin' a bit, I s'pose. [He taps her bundle with his riding whip significantly.]
WOMAN [Shaking her head vehemently]: No, me no steal.
SMITHERS: Bloody liar! But tell me what's up. There's
somethin' funny goin' on. I smelled it in the air first thing I got up
this mornin'. You blacks are up to some devilment. This palace of 'is
is like a bleedin' tomb. Where's all the 'ands? [The woman keeps
sullenly silent. SMITHERS raises his whip threateningly.]
Ow, yer won't, won't yer? I'll show yer what's what.
WOMAN [Coweringly]: I tell, Mister. You no hit. They
go--all go. [She makes a sweeping gesture toward the hills in the
SMITHERS: Run away-to the 'ills? WOMAN: Yes, Mister. Him
Emperor-Great Father. [She touches her forehead to the floor with a
quick. mechanical jerk. ) Him sleep after eat. Then they go--all
go. Me old woman. Me left only. Now me go too.
SMITHERS [His astonishment giving way to an immense, mean
satisfaction]: Ow! So that's the ticket! Well, I know bloody well
wot's in the air-when they runs orf to the 'ills. The tom-tom 'll be
thumping out there bloomin' soon. [With extreme vindictiveness.] And I'm bloody glad of it, for one! Serve 'im right! Put tin' on airs,
the stinkin' nigger! 'Is Majesty! Gawd blimey! I only 'opes I'm there
when they takes 'im out to shoot 'im. [Suddenly.] 'E's still
'ere all right, ain't 'e?
WOMAN: Yes. Him sleep.
SMITHERS: 'E's bound to find out soon as 'e wakes up. 'E's
cunnin' enough to know when 'is time's come. [He goes to the doorway
on right and whistles shrilly with his fingers in his mouth. The old
woman springs to her feet and runs out of the doorway, rear. SMITHERS goes after her, reaching for his revolver.] Stop or
I'll shoot! [Then stopping--indifferently.] Pop orf then, if yer
like, yer black cow. [He stands in the doorway, looking after her.]
[JONES enters from the right. He is a tall, powerfully-buill,
full-blooded Negro of middle age. His features are typically negroid,
yet there is something decidedly distinctive about his face--an
underlying strength of will, a hardy, self-reliant confidence in
himself that inspires respect. His eyes are alive with a keen, cunning
inlelligence. In manner he is shrewd, suspicious, evasive. He wears a
light blue uniform coal, sprayed with brass buttons, heavy gold
chevrons on his shoulders, gold braid on the collar, cuffs, etc. His
pants are bright red with a light blue stripe down the side.
Patent-Ieather laced boots with brass spurs, and a bell with a
long-barreled, pearlhandled revolver in a holster complete his make up.
Yet there is something not altogether ridiculous about his grandeur. He
has a way of carrying it off.]
JONES [N ot seeing anyone--greally irritated and blinking
sleepily-shouts]: Who dare whistle dat way in my palace? Who dare
wake up de Emperor? I'll git de hide fravled off some o’ you niggers
SMITHERS [Showing himsel/-in a manner half-afraid and
half-defiant]: It was me whistled to yer. [As JONES f
rowns angrily.] I got news for yer .
JONES [Putting on his suavest manner, which fails to cover
up his contempt /or the white man]: Oh, it's you, Mister Smithers. [He sits down on his throne with easy dignity.]
What news you got
to tell me ?
SMITHERS [Coming close to enjoy his discomfiture]:
Don't yer notice nothin' funny today?
JONES [Coldly]: Funny? No. I ain't perceived nothin'
of de kind !
SMITHERS: Then yer ain't so foxy as I thought yer was.
Where's all your court? [Sarcastically.] The Generals and the
Cabinet Ministers and all?
JONES [Imperturbably]: Where dey mostly runs de minute
I closes my eyes-drinkin' rum and talkin' big down in de town. [Sarcastically.]
How come you don't know dat? Ain't you sousin'
with 'em most every day?
SMITHERS [Stung but pretending indifference-with a wink]:
That's part of the day's work. I gottter-ain't I-in my business?
SMITHERS [Imprudently enraged]: Gawd blimey, you was
glad enough for me ter take yer in on it when you landed here first.
You didn' 'ave no 'igh and mighty airs in them days!
JONES [His hand going to his revolver like a
ftash-menacingly]: Talk polite, white man! Talk polite, you heah
me! I'm boss heah now, is you fergettin'? [The Cockney seems about
to challenge this last statement with the facts but something in the
other's eyes holds and cows him.]
SMITHERS [In a cowardly whine]: No 'arm meant, old
JONES [Condescendingly]: I accepts yo' apology.
[Lets his hand fall from his revolver.]
No use'n you rakin' up ole
times. What I was den is one thing. What I is now's another. You didn't
let me in on yo' crooked work out o’ no kind feelin's dat time. I done
de dirty work fo' you-and most o’ de brain work, too, fo' dat
matter-and I was wu'th money to you, dat's de reason.
SMITHERS: Well, blimey, I give yer a start, didn't I-when no
one else would. I wasn't afraid to 'ire yer like the rest was-'count of
the story about your breakin' jail back in the States.
JONES: No, you didn't have no s'cuse to look down on me fo'
dat. You been in jail you'self more n once.
SMITHERS [Furio-usly]: It's a lie!
[Then trying to
pass it off by an attempt at scorn.] Garn! Who told yer that fairy
JONES: Dey's some tings I ain't got to be tole. I kin see 'em
in folk's eyes. [Then after a pause-meditatively.] Yes,
you sho' give me a start. And it didn't take long from dat time to git
dese fool, woods' niggers right where I wanted dem. [With pride.] From stowaway to Emperor in two years! Dat's goin' some!
SMITHERS [With curiosity] : And I bet you got yer pile
o’ money 'id safe some place.
JONES [With satisfaction] : I sho' has! And it's in a
foreign bank where no pusson don't ever git it out but me no matter
what come. You didn't s'pose I was holdin' down dis Emperor job for de
glory in it, did you? Sho'! De fuss and glory part of it, dat's only to
turn de heads o’ de low-flung, bush niggers dat's here. Dey wants de
big circus show for deir money. I gives it to 'em an' I gits de money. [With a grin.] De long green, dat's me every time!
rebukingly.] But you ain't got no kick agin me, Smithers. I'se paid
you back all you done for me many times. Ain’t I pertected you and
winked at all de crooked tradin' you been doin' right out in de broad
day? Sho' I has and me makin' laws to stop it at de same time! [He
But, meanin' no 'arm, you been
grabbin' right and left yourself, ain't yer? Look at the taxes you've
put on 'em! Blimey! You've squeezed 'em dry!
JONES [Chuckling]: No, dey ain't
all dry yet.
I'se still heah, ain't I?
SMITHERS [Smiling at his secret thought]: They're dry
right now, you'll find out. [Chang ing the subject abruptly.]
And as for me breakin' laws, you've broke 'em all yerself just as fast
as yer made 'em.
JONES: Ain't I de Emperor? De laws don't go for him.
[Judicially.] You heah what I tells you, Smithers. Dere's little
stealin' like you does, and dere's big stealin' like I does. For de
little stealin' dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stealin'
dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks. [Reminiscently.]
If dey's one thing I learns in ten years on de
Pullman ca's listenin' to de white quality talk, it's dat same fact.
And when I gits a chance to use it I winds up Emperor in two years.
SMITHERS [Unable to repress the genuine admiration of the
small fry for the large]: Yes, yer turned the bleedin' trick, all
right. Blimey, I never seen a bloke 'as 'ad the bloomin' luck you 'as.
JONES [Severely]: Luck? What you meanluck?
SMITHERS: I Suppsee you'll say as that swank about the silver
bullet ain't luck-and that was what :first got the fool blacks on yer
side the time of the revolution, wasn't it?
JONES [With a laugh]: Oh, dat silver bullet! Sho' was
luck! But I makes dat luck, you heah? I loads de dice! Yessuh! When dat
murderin' nigger ole Lem hired to kill me takes aim ten feet away and
his gun misses fire and I shoots him dead, what you heah me say?
SMITHERS: You said yer'd got a charm so's no lead bullet'd
kill yer. You was so strong only a silver bullet could kill yer, you
told 'em. Blimey, wasn't that swank for yer-and plain, fat-'eaded luck?
JONES [Proudly]: I got brains and I uses 'em quick.
Dat ain't luck.
SMITHERS: Yer know they wasn't 'ardly liable to get no silver
bullets. And it was luck 'e didn't 'it you that time.
JONES [Laughing]: And dere all dem fool, bush niggers
was kneelin' down and bumpin' deir heads on de ground like I was a
miracle out o’ de Bible. Oh Lawd, from dat time on I has dem all eatin'
out of my hand. I cracks de whip and dey jumps through.
SMITHERS [With a sniff]:
Yankee bluff done it.
JONES: Ain't a man's talkin' big what makes him big-long as
he makes folks helieve it? Sho', I talks large when I bin't got nothin'
to hack it up, but I ain't talkin' wild just de same. I knows I kin
fool 'em-I knows it-and dat's backin enough fo' my game. And
ain't I got to learn deir lingo and teach some of dem English befo' I
kin talk to 'em? Ain't dat wuk? You ain't never learned ary word er it,
Smithers, in de ten years you been heah, dough yo' knows it's money in
yo' pocket tradin' wid 'em if you does. But you'se too shiftless to
take de trouble.
SMITHERS [Flushing]: Never mind about me. What's this
I've heard about yer really 'avin' a silver bullet moulded for
JONES: It's playin' out my bluff. I has de silver bullet
moulded and I tells 'em when de time comes I kills myself wid it. I
tells 'em dat's 'cause I'm de on'y man in de world big enuff to git me.
No use'n deir tryin'. And dey falls down and bumps deir heads. [He
laughs.] I does dat so's I kin take a walk in peace widout no
jealous nigger gunnin' at me from behind de trees.
SMITHERS [Astonished]: Then you 'ad it made-' onest?
JONES: Sho' did. Heah she be. [He takes out his revolver,
breaks it, and takes the silver bullet out of one chamber.] Five
lead an' dis silver baby at de last. Don't she shine pretty? [He
holds it in his hand, looking at it admiringly, as if strangely
SMITHERS: Let me see.
[Reaches out his hand for it]
JONES [Harshly]: : Keep yo' hands whar dey b'long,
white man. [He replaces it in the chamber and puts the revolver back
on his hip.]
SMITHERS [Snarling]: Gawd blimey! Think I'm a bleedin'
thief, you would.
JONES: No, 'tain't dat. I knows you'se scared to steal from
me. On'y I ain't 'lowin' nary body to touch dis baby. She's my rabbit's
SMITHERS [Sneering]: A bloomin' charm, wot?
Well, you'll need all the bloody charms you 'as
before long, s' 'elp me!
JONES [Judicially]: Oh, I'se good for six months yit
'fore dey gits sick o’ my game. Den, when I sees trouble comin', I
makes my getaway.
SMITHERS: Ho! You got it all planned, ain't yer?
JONES: I ain't no fool. I knows dis Emperor's time is sho't.
Dat why I make hay when de sun shine. Was you thinkin' I'se aimin' to
hold down dis job for life? No, suh! What good is gittin' money if you
stays back in dis raggedy country? I 'wants action when I spends. And
when I sees dese niggers gittin' up deir nerve to tu'n me out, and I'se
got all de money in sight, I resigns on de spot and beats it quick.
SMITHERS: Where to?
JONES: None o’ yo' business.
SMITHERS: N ot back to the bloody States, I’ll lay my
JONES [Suspiciously]: Why don't I?
[Then with an
easy laugh.] You mean 'count of dat story 'bout me breakin' from
jail back dere? Dat's all talk.
SMITHERS [Skeptically]: Ho, yes!
JONES [Sharpty]: You ain't 'sinuatin I'se a liar, is
SMITHERS [Hastily]: No, Gawd strike me! I was only
thinkin' o’ the bloody lies you told the blacks 'ere about killin'
white men in the States.
JONES [Angered]: How come dey're lies?
SMITHERS: You'd 'ave been in jail if you 'ad, wouldn't yer
then? [With venom.] And from what I've 'eard, it ain't 'ealthy
for a black to kill a white man in the States. They burns 'em in oil,
JONES [With cool deadliness]:
You mean lynchin' 'd
scare me? Well, I tells you, Smithers, maybe I does kill one white man
back dere. Maybe I does. And maybe I kills another right heah 'fore
long if he don't look out.
SMITHERS [Trying to force a laugh]: I was on'y
spoofin' yer. Can't yer take a joke? And you was just sayin' you'd
never been in jail.
JONES [In the same tone-slightly boastful]: Maybe I
goes to jail dere for gettin' in an argument wid razors ovah a crap
game. Maybe I gits twenty years when dat colored man die. Maybe I gits
in 'nother argument wid de prison guard was overseer ovah us when we're
wukin' de roads. Maybe he hits me wid a whip and I splits his head wid
a shovel and runs away and files de chain off my leg and gits away
safe. Maybe I does all dat. An' maybe I don't. It's a story I tells you
so's you knows I'se de kind of man dat if you evah repeats one word of
it, I ends yo' stealin' on dis yearth mighty damn quick!
SMITHERS [Terrified]: Think I'd peach on yer? Not me!
Ain't I always been yer friend?
JONES [Suddenly relaxing]: Sho' you has--and you
SMITHERS [Recovering his composure-and with it his malice]:
And just to show yer I'm yer friend, I'll tell yer that bit o’ news I
was goin’ to.
JONES : Go ahead! Shoot de piece. Must be bad news from de
happy way you look.
SMITHERS [Warningly]: Maybe it's gettin' time for you
to resign-with that bloomin' silver bullet, wot? [He finishes with a
JONES [Puzzled]: What's dat you say? Talk plain.
SMITHERS: Ain't noticed any of the guards or servants about
the place today, I 'aven't.
JONES [Carelessly]: Dey're all out in de garden
sleepin' under de trees. When I sleeps, dey sneaks a sleep, too, and I
pretends I never suspicions it. All I got to do is to ring de bell and
dey come flyin', makin' a bluff dey was wukin' all de time.
SMITHERS [In the same mocking tone]: Ring the bell now
an' you'll bloody well see what I means.
JONES [Startled to alertness, but preserving the same
careless tone]: Sho' I rings. [He reaches below the throne and
pulls out a big, common dinner bell which is painted the same vivid
scarlet as the throne. He rings this vigorously-then stops to listen.
Then he goes to both doors, rings again, and looks out.]
SMITHERS [Watching him with 1ltalicious satisfaction,
after a pause-mockingly]: The bloody ship is sinkin' an' the
bleedin' rats 'as slung their 'ooks.
JONES [In a sudden fit of anger flings the bell clattering
into a corner]: Low-flung, woods' niggers! [Then catching
Smithers' eye on him, he controls himself and suddenly bursts into a
low chuckling laugh.] Reckon I overplays my hand dis once! A man
can't take de pot on a bob-tailed flush all de time. Was I sayin' I'd
sit in six months mo'? Wen, I'se changed my mind den. I cashes in and
resigns de job of Emperor right dis minute.
SMITHERS [With real admiration]: Blimey, but you're a
cool bird, and no mistake.
JONES: No use'n fussin'. When I knows de game's up I kisses
it good-bye widout no long waits. Dey've all run off. to de hills,
SMITHERS: Yes--every bleedin' man jack of ‘em.
JONES: Den de revolution is at de post. And de Emperor better
git his feet smokin' up de trail. [He starts for the door in rear.]
SMITHERS: Goin' out to look for your 'orse? Yer won't find
any. They steals the 'orses first thing. Mine was gone when I went for
'im this mornin'. That's wot first give me a suspicion of wot was up.
JONES [Alarmed for a second, scratches his head, then
philosophically]: Well, den I hoofs it. Feet, do yo' duty! [He
pulls out a gold watch and looks at it.] Three-thuty. Sundown's at
six-thuty or dereabouts. [Puts his watch back-with cool confidence.] I got plenty o’ time to make it easy.
SMITHERS: Don't be so bloomin' sure of it. They'll be after
you 'ot and 'eavy. Ole Lem is at the bottom o’ this business an' 'e
'ates you like 'ell. 'E'd rather do for you than eat 'is dinner, ‘e
JONES [Scornfully]: Dat fool no-count nigger! Does you
think I'se scared o’ him? I stands him on his thick head niore'n once
befo' dis, and I does it again if he come in my way... [Fiercely.]
And dis time I leave him a dead nigger fo' sho'!
SMITHERS: You'll 'ave to cut through the big forest-an' these
blacks 'ere can sniff and follow a trail in the dark like 'ounds. You'd
'ave to 'ustle to get through that forest in twelve hours even if you
knew all the bloomin' trails like a native.
JONES [With indignant scorn]: Look-a-heah, white man!
Does you think I'se a natural bo'n fool? Give me credit fo' havin' some
sense, fo' Lawd's sake! Don't you s'pose I'se looked ahead and made
sho' of all de chances? I'se gone out in dat big forest, pretendin' to
hunt, so many times dat I knows it high an' low like a book. I could go
through on dern trails wid my eyes shut. [With great contempt.] Think dese ign'rent bush niggers dat ain't got brains enuff to know
deir own names even can catch Brutus Jones? Huh, I s'pects not! Not on
yo' life! Why, man, de white men went after me wid bloodhounds where I
come from an' I jes' laughs at 'em. It's a shame to fool dese black
trash around heah, dey're so easy. You watch me, man! I'll make dem
look sick, I will. I'll be' cross de plain to de edge of de forest by
time dark comes. Once in de woods in de night, dey got a swell chance
o’ findin' dis baby! Dawn tomorrow I'll be out at de oder side and on
de coast whar dat French gunboat is stayin'. She picks me up, take me
to Martinique when she go dar, and dere I is safe wid a mighty big
bankroll in my jeans. It's easy as rollin' off a log.
SMITHERS [Maliciously]: But s'posin' somethin' 'appens
wrong an' they do nab yer?
JONES [Decisively]: Dey don't-dat's de answer.
SMITHERS: But, just for argyment's sake what'd yoy do?
JONES [Frowning]: I'se got five lead bullets in dis
gun good enuff fo' common bush niggers--and after dat I got de silver
bullet left to cheat 'em out o’ gittin' me.
SMITHERS [Jeeringly]: Ho, I was fergettin' that silver
bullet. You'll bump yourself orf in style, Won't yer? Blimey!
JONES [Gloomily]: You kin bet yo whole roll on one
thing, white man. Dis baby plays out his string to de end and when he
quits, he quits wid a bang de way he ought. Silver bullet ain't none
too good for him when he go, dat's a fact [Then shaking off his
nervousness--with a confident laugh.] Sho'! What is I talkin'
about? Ain't come to dat yit and I never will-not wid trash niggers
like dese yere. [Boastfully.] Silver bullet bring me luck
anyway. I kin outguess, outrun, outfight, an' outplay de whole lot o’
dem all ovah de board any time o’ de day er night! You watch me! [From the distant hills comes the faint, steady thump of a tom-tom, low
and vibrating. It starts at " rate exactly corresponding to normal
pulse beat-72 to the minute-and continues at a gradually accelerating
rate from this point uninterruptedly to the very end of the play.]
[JONES starts at the sound. A strange look of apprehension creeps
into his face for a moment as he listens. Then he asks, with an attempt
to regain his most casual manner.] What's dat drum beatin' fo'?
SMITHERS [With a mean grin]: For you. That means the
bleedin' ceremony 'as started. I've 'eard it before and I knows.
JONES: Cer'mony? What cer'mony?
SMITHERS: The blacks is 'oldin' a bloody meetin', 'avin' a
war dance, get tin' their courage worked up b'fore they starts after
JONES: Let dew! Dey'll sho' need it!
SMITHERS: And they're there 'oldin' their 'eathen religious
service-makin' no end of devil spells and charms to 'elp 'em against
your silver bullet. [He guffaws loudly.l Blimey, but they're
balmy as 'ell!
JONES [A tiny bit awed and shaken in spite of himself]:
Huh! Takes more'n dat to scare dis chicken!
SMITHERS [Scenting the other's feeling-maliciously]:
Ternight when it's pitch black in the forest, they'll 'ave their pet
devils and ghosts, ‘oundin' after you. You 'll :find yer bloody 'air
'll be standin' on end before termorrow mornin'. [Seriously.]
It's a bleedin' queer place, that stinkin' forest, even in daylight.
Yer don't know what might 'appen in there, it's that rotten still,
Always sends the cold shivers down my back minute I gets in it.
JONES [With a contemptuous sniff]: I ain't no
chicken-liver like you is. Trees an' me,we'se friends, and dar's a full
moon comin' bring me light. And let dem po' niggers make all de fool
spells dey'se a min' to. Does yo' s'pect I'se silly enuff to b'lieve in
ghosts an' ha'nts an' all dat ole woman's talk? G'long, white man! You
ain't talkin' to me. [With a chuckle.] Doesn't you know dey's
got to do wid a man was member in good standin' o’ de Baptist Church?
Sho' I was dat when I was porter on de Pullmans, befo' I gits into my
little trouble. Let dem try deir heathen tricks. De Baptist Church done
pertect me and land dem all in hell. [Then with more confident
satisfaction.] And I'se got little silver bullet o’ my own, don't
SMITHERS: Ho! You 'aven't give much 'eed to
your Baptist Church since you been down 'ere. I've 'eard myself you 'ad
turned yer coat an' was takin' up with their blarsted witch-doctors, or
whatever the 'ell yer calls the swine.
JONES [Vehemently]: I pretends to! Sho' I pretends!
Dat's part o’ my game from de fust. If I finds out dem niggers
believe’s dat black is white, den I yells it out louder 'n deir
loudest. It don't git me nothin' to do missionary work for de Baptist
Church. I'se after de coin, an' I lays my Jesus on de shelf for de time
bein'. [Stops a.bruptly to look at his watch-alertly.] But I
ain't got de time to waste no more fool talk wid you. I'se gwine away
from heah dis secon'. [He reaches in under the throne and pulls out
an expensive Panama hat with a bright multi-colored band and sets it
jauntily on his head.] So long, white man! [With a grin.] See you in jail sometime, maybe!
SMITHERS: Not me, you won't. Well, I wouldn't be in yer
bloody boots for no bloomin' money, but 'ere's wishin' yer luck just
JONES [Contemptuously] : You're de frightenedest man
evah I see! I tells you I'se safe's 'f I was in New York City. It takes
dem niggers from now to dark to git up de nerve to start somethin'. By
dat time, I'se got a head start dey never kotch up wid.
SMITHERS [Maliciously]: Give my regards to any ghosts
yer meets up with.
: If dat ghost got money, I'll tell
him never ha'nt you less'n he wants to lose it.
SMITHERS [Flattered]: Garn!
Ain't yer takin' no luggage with yer?
JONES: I travels light when I wants to move fast. And I got
tinned grub buried on de edge o’ de forest. [Boastfully.] Now
say dat I don't look ahead an' use my brains! [With a wide, liberal
gesture.] I will all dat's left in de palace to you -and you better
grab all you kin sneak away wid befo' dey gits here.
SMITHERS [Gratefully]: Righto-and thanks ter yer.
walks toward the door in rear -cautioningly.]
Look 'ere, you ain't goin' out that way, are yer?
JONES: Does you think I'd slink out de back door like a
common nigger? I'se Emperor yit, ain't I? And de Emperor Jones leaves
de way he comes, and dat black trash don't dare stop him--not yit,
leastways. [He stops for a moment in the doorway, listening to the
far-off but insistent beat of the tom-tom.] Listen to dat
roll-call, will you? Must be mighty big drum carry dat far. [Then
with a laugh.] Well, if dey ain't no whole brass band to see me
off, I sho' got de drum part of it. So long, white man. [He puts his
hands in his pockets and with studied carelessness, whistling a tune,
he saunters out of the doorway and off to the left.]
SMITHERS [Looks after him with a puzzled admiration]:
'E's got 'is bloomin' nerve with 'im, s'elp me! [Then angrily.] Ho-the bleedin' nigger-puttin' on 'is bloody airs! I 'opes they nabs
'im an' gives 'im what's what! [Then putting business before the
pleasure of this thought, looking around him with cupidity.] A
bloke ought to find a 'ole lot in this palace that'd go for a bit of
cash. Let's take a look, ‘Arry , me lad. [He darts for the doorway
on right as
[The Curtain Falls.]
SCENE-Nightfall. The end of the plain where the Great Forest begins.
The foreground is sandy, level ground dotted by a few stones and clumps
of stunted bushes cowering close against the earth to escape the
buffeting of the trade wind. In the rear the forest is a wall of
darkness dividing the world. Only when the eye becomes accustomed to
the gloom can the outlines of separate trunks of the nearest trees be
made out, enormous pillars of deeper blackness. A somber monotone of
wind lost in the leaves moans in the air. Yet this sound serves but to
intensify the impression of the forest's relentless immobility, to form
a background throwing into relief its brooding, implacable silence.
[JONES enters front the left, walking rapidly. He stops as he
nears the edge of the forest, looks around him quickly, peering into
the dark as if searching for some familiar landmark. Then, apparently
satisfied that he is where he ought to be, he throws himself on the
Well, heah I is. In de nick o’ time, too! Little mo' an' it'd be
blacker'n de ace of spades heahabouts. [He pulls a bandana
handkerchief from his hip pocket and mops off his perspiring face.] Sho'! Gimme air! I'se tuckered out sho' 'nuff. Dat soft Emperor job
ain't no trainin' fo' a long hike ovah dat plain in de brilin' sun. [Then with a chuckle.]
Cheah up, nigger, de worst is yet to come.
[He lifts his head and stares at the forest. His chuckle peters out
abruptly. In a tone of awe.] My goodness, look at dem woods, will
you? Dat no-count Smithers said dey'd be black an' he sho' called de
turn. [Turning away from them quickly and looking down at his feet,
he snatches at a chance to change the subject-solicitously.] Feet,
you is holdin' up yo' end fine an' I sutinly hopes you ain't blisterin'
none. It's time you git a rest. [He takes off his shoes, his eyes
studiously avoiding the forest. He feels of the soles of his feet
gingerly.] You is still in de pink--on'y a little mite feverish.
Cool yo'selfs. Remember you done got a long journey yit befo' you. [He sits in a weary attitude, listening to the rhythmic beating of the
tom-tom. He grumbles in a loud tone to cover up a growing uneasiness.
] Bush niggers! Wonder dey wouldn' git sick o’ beatin' dat drum. Sound
louder, seem like. I wonder if cey's startin' after me? [He
scrambles to his feet-, looking back across the plain.] Couldn't
see dem now, nohow, if dey was hundred feet away. [Then shaking
himself like a wet dog to get rid of these depressing thoughts.]
Sho', dey's miles an miles behind. What you gittin’ fidgety about? [But he sits down and begins to lace up his shoes in great haste,
all the time muttering reassuringly.] You know what? Yo' belly is
empty, dat's what's de matter wid you. Come time to eat! Wid nothin'
but wind on yo' stumach, o’ course you feels jiggedy. Well, we eats
right heah an' now soon's I gits dese pesky shoes laced up! [He
finishes lacing up his shoes.] Dere! Now le's see. [Gets on his
hands and knees and searches the ground around him with his eyes.]
White stone, white stone, where is you? [He sees the first white
stone and crawls to it-with satisfaction.] Heah you is! I knowed
dis was de right place. Box of grub, come to me. [He turns over the
stone and feels in under it-in a tone of dismay.] Ain't heah!
Gorry, is I in de right place or isn't I? Dere's 'nother stone. Guess
dat's it. [He scrambles to the next stone and turns il over.] Ain't heah, neither! Grub, whar is yqu? Ain't heah. Gorry, has I got to
go hungry into dem woods-all de night? [W hile he is talking he
scrambles from one stone to another, turning them over in frantic
haste. Finally, he jumps to his feet excitedly.] Is I lost de
place? Must have! But how dat happen when I was fcllowin' de trail
across de plain in broad daylight? [Almost plaintively.] I'se
hungry, I is! I gotta git my feed. Whar's my strength gonna come from
if I doesn't? Gorry, I gotta find dat grub high an' low somehow! Why it
come dark so quick like dat? Can't see nothin'. [He scratches a
match on his trousers and peers about him. The rate of the beat of the
far-off tnm-tom increases perceptibly as he does so. He mutters in a
bewildered voice.] How come all dese white stones come heah when I
only remembers one? [Suddenly, with a frightened gasp, he flings the
match on the ground and stamps on it.] Nigger, is you gone crazy
mad? Is you lightin' matches to show dem whar you is? Fo' Lawd's sake,
use yo' haid. Gorry, I'se got to be careful! [He stares at the plain
behin,l him apprehensively, his hand on his revolver.] But how come
all dese white stones? And whar's dat tin box o’ grub I had all wrapped
up in oil cloth?
[While his back is turned, the
LITTLE FORMLESS FEARS
creep out from the deeper blackness of the
forest. They are black, shapeless, only their glittering little eyes
can be seen. If they have any describable form at all it is that of a
grubworm about the size of a creeping child. They move noiselessly, but
with deliberate, painful effort, striving to raise themselves on 'nd,
failing and sinking prone again. JONES turns about to face the
forest. He stares up at the tops of the trees, seeking vainly to
discover his whereabouts by their conformation.]
Can't tell nothin' from dem trees! Gorry, nothin' 'round heah look
like I evah seed it befo’. I’se done lost de place sho’ ‘nuff! [With
mournful foreboding.] It’s mighty queer! It’s mighty queer! [With sudden forced defiance-in an angry tone.]
Woods, is you
tryin’ to put somethin’ ovah on me?
[From the formless creatures on the ground in front of him comes
a tiny gale of low mocking laughter like a rustling of leaves. They
squirm upward toward him in twisted attitudes. JONES looks down,
leaps backward with a yell of terror, yanking out his revolver as he
does so--in a quavering voice.] What's dat? Who’s dar? What is you?
Git away from me befo' I shoots you up! Yo'.don't? ...
[He fires. There is a flash, a loud report, then silence broken only
by the far-off
, quickened throb of the tom-tom. The formless creatures have
scurried back into the forest. JONES remains fixed in his
position, listening intently. The sound of the shot, the reassuring
feel of the revolver in his hand, have somewhat restored his shaken
nerve. He addresses himself with renewed confidence.]
Dey're gone. Dat shot fix 'em. Dey was only little animals-little
wild pigs, I reckon. Dey've maybe rooted out yo' grub an' eat it. Sho',
you fool nigger, what you think dey is-ha’nts? [Excitedly.]
Gorry, you give de game away when you fire dat shot. Dem niggers heah
dat fo' su'tin! Time you beat it in de woods widout no long waits. [
He starts for the forest-hesitates before the plunge-then urging
himself in with manful resolution.] Git in, nigger! What you
skeered at? Ain't nothin' dere but de trees! Git in! [He plunges
boldly into the forest.]
SCENE-Nine o'clock. In the forest. The moon has just risen. Its
beams, drifting through the canopy of leaves, make a barely
perceptible, suffused, eerie glow. A dense low wall of underbrush and
creepers is in the nearer foreground, fencing in a small triangular
clearing. Beyond this is the massed blackness of the forest like an
encompassing barrier. A path is dimly discerned leading down to the
clearing from left, rear, and winding away from it again toward the
right. As the scene opens nothing can be distinctly made out. Except
for the beating of the tom-tom, which is a trifle louder and quicker
than in the previous scene, there is silence, broken every few seconds
by a queer, clicking sound. Then gradually the figure of the negro, JEFF, can be discerned crouching on his haunches at the rear of the
triangle. He is middle-aged, thin, brown in color, is dressed in a
Pullman porter's uniform, cap, etc. He is throwing a pair of dice on
the ground before him, picking them up, shaking them, casting them out
with the regular, rigid, mechanical movements of an automaton. The
heavy, plodding footsteps of someone approachmg along the trail from
the left are heard and JONES' voice, pitched in a slightly
higher key and strained in a cheering effort to overcome its own
De moon's rizen. Does you heall dat, nigger? You gits more light
from dis out. No mo'buttin' yo' fool head agin' de trunks an'
scratchin' de hide off yo' legs in de bushes. Now you sees whar yo'se
gwine. So cheer up! From now on you has a snap. [Ht steps just to
the rear of the triangular clearing and mops off his face on his
sleeve. He has lost his Panama hat. His face is scratched, his
brilliant uniform shows several large rents.] What time's it
gittin' to be, I wonder? I dassent light no match to find out. Phoo'.
It's wa'm an' dat's a fac'! [Wearily.] How long I been makin'
tracks in dese woods? Must be hours an' hours. Seems like fo'evah! Yit
can't be, when de moon's jes' riz. Dis am a long night fo' yo', yo'
Majesty! [With a mournful chuckle.] Majesty! Der ain't much
majesty 'bout dis baby now. [With attempted cheerfulness.] Never
min'. It's all part o’ de game. Dis night come to an end like
everything else. And when you gits dar safe and has dat bankroll in yo'
hands you laughs at all dis. [He starts to whistle but checks
bintself abruptly.] What yo' whistlin' for, you po' dope! 'Want all
de worl' to heah you? [He stops talking to listen.] Heah dat ole
drum! Sho' gits nearer from de sound. Dey're packin' it along wid 'em.
Time fo' me to move. [He takes a step forward, then
stops-worriedly.] What's dat odder queer clickety sound I heah?
Dere it is! Sound close! Sound like-sound like fo' God sake, sound like
some nigger was shootin' crap! [Frightenedly.] I better beat it
quick when I gits dem notions. [He walks quickly into the clear
space-then stands transfixed as he sees JEFF-in a terrified gasp.] Who dar? Who dat? Is dat you, Jeff?
[Starting toward the other,
forgetful for a moment of his surroundings and really believing it is a
living man that he sees in a tone of happy relief.] Jeff! I'se sho'
mighty glad to see you! Dey tol' me you done died from dat razor cut I
gives you. [Stopping suddenly, bewilderedly.] But how you come
to be heah, nigger? [He stares fascinatedly at the other who
continues his mechanica1play with the dice. JONES' eyes begin to
roll wildly. He stutters.] Ain't you gwine-look up-can't you speak
to me? Is you-is you-a ha'nt? [He jerks out his revolver in a frenzy
of terrified rage.] Nigger, I kills you dead once. Has I got to
kill you again? You take it den. [He fires. W hen the smoke clears
away JEFF has disappeared. JONES stands trembling-then
with a certain reassurance.] He's gone, anyway. Ha'nt or no ha'nt,
dat shot fix him. [The beat of the far-off tom-tom is perceptibly
louder and more rapid. JONES becomes conscious of it-with a
start, looking back over his shoulder.] Dey's gittin' near! Dey's
comin' fast! And heah I is shootin' shots to let 'em know jes' whar I
is. Oh, Gorry, I'se got to run. [Forgetting the path he plunges
wildly into the underbrush in the rear and disappears in the shadow.
SCENE-Eleven o'clock. In the forest. A wide dirt road runs
diagonally from right, front, to left, rear. Rising sheer on both sides
the forest walls it in. The moon is now up. Under its light the road
glimmers ghastly and unreal. It is as if the forest had stood aside
momentarily to let the road pass through and accomplish its veiled
purpose. This done, the forest will fold in upon itself again and the
road will be no more.
JONES stumbles in from the forest on the right. His uniform is
ragged and torn. He looks about him with numbed surprise when he sees
the road, his eyes blinking in the bright moonlight. He flops down
exhaustedly and pants heavily for a while. Then with sudden anger.
I'm meltin' wid heat! Runnin' an' runnin' an' runnin'! Damn dis heah
coat! Like a strait-jacket! [He tears off his coat and flings it
away from him, revealing himself stripped to the waist.] Dere!
Dat's better! Now I kin breathe! [Looking down at his feet, the
spurs catch his eye.] And to hell wid dese high-fangled spurs.
Dey're what's been a-trippin' me up an' breakin' my neck. [He
unstraps them and flings them away disgustedly.] Dere! I gits rid
o’ dem frippety Emperor trappin's an' I travels lighter. Lawd! I'se
tired! [After a pause, listening to the insistent beat of the
tom-tom in the distance.] I must 'a put some distance between
myself an' dem-runnin' like dat-and yit-dat damn drum sound jes' de
same--nearer, even. Well, I guess I a'most holds my lead anyhow. Dey
won't never catch up. [With a sigh.] If on'y my fool legs stands
up. Oh, I'se sorry I evah went in for dis. Dat Emperor job is sho' hard
to shake. [He looks around him suspiciously.] How'd dis road
evah git heah? Good level road, too. I never remembers seein' it befo'. [Shaking his head apprehensively.] Dese woods is sho' full o’ de
queerest things at night. [With a sudden terror.] Lawd God,
don't let me see no more o’ dem ha'nts! Dey gits my goat! [Then
trying to talk himself into confidence.] Ha'nts! You fool nigger,
dey ain't no such things! Don't de Baptist parson tell you dat many
time? Is you civilized, or is you like dese ign'rent black niggers
heah? Sho'! Dat was all in yo' own head. Wasn't nothin' dere. Wasn't no
Jeff! Know what? You jus' ger seein' dem things 'cause yo' belly's
empty and you's sick wid hunger inside. Hunger 'fects yo' head and yo'
eyes. Any fool know dat. [Then pleading fervently. J But bless
God, I don't come across no more o’ clem. whatever dey is! [Then
cautiously.] Rest! Don't talk! Rest! You needs it. Den you gits on
yo' way again. [Looking at the moon.] Night's half gone a'most.
You hits de coast in de mawning! Den you'se all safe.
[From the right forward a small gang of Negroes enter. They are
dressed in striped convict suits, their heads are shaven, one leg drags
limpingly, shackled to a heavy ball and chain. Some carry Picks, the
others shovels. They are followed by a white man dressed in the uniform
of a prison guard. A Winchester rifle is slung across his shoulders and
he carries a heavy whip. At a signal from the
GUARD they stop on the road opposite where
sitting. JONES, who has been staring up at the sky, unmindful of
their noiseless approach, suddenly looks down and sees them. His eyes
pop out, he tries to get to his feet and fly, but sinks back, too
numbed by fright to move. His voice catches in a choking prayer.]
[The PRISON GUARD
whip-noiselessly-and at that signal all the convicts start to work on
the road. They swing their picks, they shovel, but not a sound comes
from thcir labor. Their movements, like those of JEFF in the
preceding scene, are those of automatons,-rigid, slow, and mechanical.
The PRISON GUARD points sternly at JONES with his whip,
motions him to take his place among the other shovelers. JONES gets to his feet in a hypnotized stupor. He mumbles subserviently.]
Yes, suh! Yes, suh! I'se comin'.
[As he shuffles, dragging one
foot, over to his place, he curses under his breath with rage and
God damn yo' soul, I gits even wid you yit, sometime.
[As if there were a shovel in his hands he goes through weary,
mechanical gestures of digging up dirt, and throwing it to the
roadside. Suddenly the GUARD approaches him angrily,
threateningly. He raises his whip and lashes JONES viciously
across the shoulders with it. JONES winces with pain and cowers
abjectly. The GUARD turns his back on him and walks away
contemptuously. Instantly JONES straightens up. With arms
upraised as if his shovel were a club in his hands he springs
murderously at the unsuspecting GUARD. In the act of crashing
down his shovel on the white man's skull, JONES suddenly becomes
aware that his hands are empty. He cries despairingly.]
Whar's my shovel? Gimme my shovel till I splits his damn head!
[Appealing to his fellow convicts.] Gimme a shovel, one o’ you, fo'
[They stand fixed in motionless attitudes, their eyes on the ground.
GUARD seems to wait expectantly. his back turned to the
attacker. JONES bellows with baffled, terrified rage, tugging
frantically at his revolver.]
I kills you, you white debil, if it's de last thing I evah does!
Ghost or debil, I kill you again!
[He frees the revolver and fires point blank at the
GUARD'S back. Instantly the walls of the forest close in from both sides, the
road and the figures of the convict gang are blotted out in an
enshrouding darkness. The only sounds are a crashing in the underbrush
as JONES leaps away in mad flight and the throbbing of the
tom-tom, still far distant, but increased in volume of sound and
rapidity of beat.]
SCENE-One o'clock. A large circular clearing, enclosed by the
serried ranks of gigantic trunks of tall trees whose tops are lost to
view. In the center is a big dead stump worn by time into a curious
resemblance to an auction block. The moon floods the clearing with a
clear light. JONES forces his way in through the forest on the
left. He looks wildly about the clearing with hunted, fearful glances.
His pants are in tatters, his shoes cut and misshapen, flapping about
his feet. He slinks cautiously to the stump in the center and sits down
in a tense position, ready for instant flight. Then he holds his head
in his hands and rocks back and forth, moaning to himself miserably.
Oh Lawd, Lawd! Oh Lawd, Lawd!
[Suddenly be throws himself on his
knees and raises his clasped hands to the sky-in a voice of agonized
pleading.] Lawd Jesus, heah my prayer! I'se a po' sinner, a
po' sinner! I knows I done wrong, I knows it! When I cotches Jeff
cheatin' wid loaded dice my anger overcomes me and I kills him dead!
Lawd, I done wrong! When dat guard hits me wid de whip, my anger
overcomes me, and I kills him dead. Lawd, I done wrong! And down heah
whar dese fool bush niggers raised me up to the seat o’ de mighty, I
steals all I could grab. Lawd, I done wrong! I knows it! I'se sorry!
Forgive me, Lawd! Forgive dis po' sinner! [Then beseeching
terrifiedly.] And keep dem away, Lawd! Keep dem away from me! And
stop dat drum soundin' in my ears! Dat begin to sound ha'nted, too. [He gets to his feet, evidently slightly reassured by his prayer-with
attempted confidence.] De Lawd'll preserve me from dem ha'nts after
dis. [Sits down on the stump again.] I ain't skeered o’ real
men. Let dem come. But dem odders...[He shudders then looks down at
his feet, working his toes inside the shoes-with a groan.] Oh, my
po' feet! Dem shoes ain't no use no more 'ceptin' to hurt. I'se better
off widout dem. [He unlaces them and pulls them off-holds the wrecks
of the shoes in his hands and regards them mournfuiiy.] You was
real, A-one patin' leather, too. Look at you now. Emperor, you'se
gittin' mighty low!
[He sits dejectedly and remains with bowed shoulders, staring down
at the shoes in his hand as if reluctant to throw them away. While his
attention is thus occupied, a crowd of figures silently enter the
clearing from all sides. All
are dressed in Southern costumes of the period of the fifties of
the last century. There are middle-aged men who are evidently
well-to-do planters. There is one spruce, authoritative individual-the AUCTIONEER.
There is a crowd of curious spectators, chiefly young
belles and dandies who have come to the slave-market for diversion. All
exchange courtly greetings in dumb show and chat silently together.
There is something stiff, rigid, unreal, marionettish about
their movements. They group themselves about the stump. Finally a batch
of slaves are led in from the left by an attendant-three men of
different ages, two women, one with a baby in her arms, nursing. They
are placed to the left of the stump, beside JONES.
The white planters look them over appraisingly as if they were
cattle, and exchange judgments on each. The dandies point with their
fingers and make witty remarks. The belles titter bewitchingly. All
this in silence save for the ominous throb of the tom-tom. The
AUCTIONEER holds up his hand, taking his place at the stump. The
group strain forward attentively. He touches JONES on the
shoulder peremptorily, motioning for him to stand on the stump-the
JONES looks up, sees the figures on all sides, looks
wildly for some opening to escape, sees none, screams and leaps madly
to the top of the stump to get as far away from them as
possible. He stands there, cowering, paralyzed with horror. The AUCTIONEER
begins his silent spiel. He points to
JONES, appeals to the planters to see for themselves. Here is a good field
hand, sound in wind and limb as they can see. Very strong still in
spite of his being middle-aged. Look at that back. Look at those
shoulders. Look at the muscles in his arms and his sturdy legs. Capable
of any amount of hard labor. Moreover, of a good disposition,
intelligent and tractable. Will any gentleman start the bidding? The PLANTERS
raise their fingers, make their bids. They are apparently
all eager to possess JONES. The bidding is lively, the crowd
interested. W hile this has been going on, JONES has been seized
by the courage of desperation. He dares to look down and around him.
Over his face abject terror gives way to mystification, to gradual
What you all doin', white folks? What's all dis? What you all
lookin' at me .fo’? What you doin' wid me, anyhow? [Suddenly
convulsed with raging hatred and fear.] Is dis a auction? Is you
sellin' me like dey uster befo' de war? [Jerking out his revolver
just as the AUCTIONEER knocks him down to one of the
planters-glaring from him to the purchaser.] And you sells
me? And you buys me? I shows you I'se a free nigger, damn yo'
souls! [He fires at the AUCTIONEER and at the PLANTER with such rapidity that the two shots are almost simultaneous. As if
this were a signal the walls of the forest fold in. Only blackness
remains and silence broken by JONES as he rushes off, crying with fear-and by the quickened, ever louder beat of the
SCENE-Three o'clock. A cleared space in the forest. The limbs of the
trees meet over it forming a low ceiling about five feet from the
ground. The interlocked ropes of creepers reaching upward to entwine
the tree trunks give an arched appearance to the sides. The space thus
enclosed is like the dark, noisome hold of some ancient vessel. The
moonlight is almost completely shut out and only a vague, wan light
filters through. There is the noise of someone approaching from the
left, stumbling and crawling through the undergrowth.
JONES' voice is heard between chattering moans.
Oh, Lawd, what I gwine do now? Ain't got no bullet left on'y de
silver one. If mo' o’ dem ha'nts come after me, how I gwine skeer dem
away? Oh, Lawd, on'y de silver one left-an' I gotta save dat fo' luck.
If I shoots dat one I'm a goner sho'! Lawd, it's black heah! Whar's de
moon? Oh, Lawd, don't dis night evah come to an end? [By the sounds,
he is feeling his way cautiously forward.] Dere! Dis feels like a
clear space. I gotta lie down an' rest. I don't care if dem niggers
does cotch me. I gotta rest.
[He is 'lvell forward now where his figure can be dimly made out.
His pants have been so torn away that what is left of them is no better
than a breech cloth. He flings himself full length, face downward on
the ground, panting with exhaustion. Gradually it seems to grow lighter
in the enclosed space and two rows of seated figures can be seen behind
JONES. They are sitting in crumpled, despairing attitudes,
hunched, facing one another with their backs touching the forest walls
as if they were shackled to them. All are Negroes, naked save for loin
cloths. At first they are silent and motionless. Then they begin to
sway slowly forward toward each other and back again in unison, as if
they were laxly letting themselves follow the long roll of a ship at
sea. At the same time, a low, melancholy murmur rises among them,
increasing gradually by rhythmic degrees which seem to be directed and
controlled by the throb of the tom-tom in the distance, to a long,
tremulous wail of despair that reaches a certain pitch, unbearably
acute, then falls by slow gradations of tone into silence and is taken
up again. JONES starts, looks up, sees the figures, and throws
himself down again to shut out the sight. A shudder of terror shakes
his whole body as the wail rises up about him again. But the next time,
his voice, as if under some uncanny compulsion, starts with the others.
As their chorus lifts he rises to a sitting posture similar to the
others, swaying back and forth. His voice reaches the highest pitch of
sorrow, of desolation. The light fades out, the other voices cease, and
only darkness is left. JONES can be heard scrambling to his feet
and running off, his voice sinking down the scale and receding
as he moves farther and farther away in the forest. The tom-tom beats
louder, quicker, with a more insistent, triumphant pulsation.]
SCENE-Five o'clock. The foot of a gigantic tree by, the edge of a
great river. A rough structure of boulders, like an altar, is by the
tree. The raised river bank is in the nearer background. Beyond this
the surface of the river spreads out, brilliant and unruffled in the
moonlight, blotted out and merged into a veil of bluish mist in the
distance. JONES' voice is heard from the left rising and falling
in the long, despairing wail of the chained slaves, to the rhythmic
beat of the tom-tom. As his voice sinks into silence, he enters the
open space. The expression of his face is fixed and stony, his eyes
have an obsessed glare, he moves with a strange deliberation like a
sleepwalker or one in a trance. He looks around at the tree, the rough
stone altar, the moonlit surface of the river beyond, and passes
his hand over his head with a vague gesture of puzzled bewilderment.
Then, as if in obedience to some obscure impulse, he sinks into a
kneeling, devotional posture before the altar. Then he seems to come to
himself partly, to have an uncertain realization of what he is doing,
for he straightens up and stares about him horrifiedly-in an incoherent
What-what is I doin'? What is-dis place? Seems like-seems like I
know dat tree-an’ dem stones-an' de river. I remember-seems like I been
heah befo'. [Tremblingly.] Oh, Gorry, I'se skeered in dis place!
I'se skeered! Oh, Lawd, pertect dis sinner!
[Crawling away from the altar, he cowers close to the ground, his
face hidden, his shoulders heaving with sobs of hysterical fright. From
behind the trunk of the tree, as if he had sprung out of it, the figure
of the CONGO WITCH-DOCTOR appears. He is wizened and old, naked
except for the fur of some small animal tied about his waist, its bushy
tail hanging down in front. His body is stained all over a bright red.
Antelope horns are on each side of his head, branching upward. In one
hand he carries a bone rattle, in the other a charm stick with a bunch
of white cockatoo feathers tied to the end. A great number of glass
beads and bone ornaments are about his neck, ears, wrists, and ankles.
He struts noiselessly with a queer prancing step to a position in the
clear ground between JONES and the altar. Then with a
preliminary, summoning stamp of his foot on the earth, he begins to
dance and to chant. As if in response to his summons the beating
of the tom-tom grows to a fierce, exultant boom whose throbs seem to
fill the air with vibrating rhythm. JONES looks up, starts to
spring to his feet, reaches a half-kneeling, half-squatting position
and remains rigidly fixed there, paralyzed with awed fascination by
this new apparition. The WITCH-DOCTOR sways, stamping with his
foot, his bone rattle clicking the time. His voice rises and falls in a
weird, monotonous croon, without articulate word divisions. Gradually
his dance becomes clearly one of a narrative in pantomime, his
croon is an incantation, a charm to allay the fierceness of some
implacable deity demanding sacrifice. He flees, he is pursued by
devils, he hides, he flees again. Ever wilder and wilder becomes his
flight, nearer and nearer draws the pursuing evil, more and more the
spirit of terror gains possession of him. His croon, rising to
intensity, is punctuated by shrill cries. JONES has become
completely hypnotized. His voice joins in the incantation, in the
cries, he beats time with his hands and sways his body to and fro from
the waist. The whole spirit and meaning of the dance has entered into
him, has become his spirit. Finally the theme of the pantomime halts on
a howl of despair, and is taken up again in a note of savage hope.
There is a salvation. The forces of evil demand sacrifice. They must be
appeased. The WITCH-DOCTOR points with his wand to the sacred
tree, to the river beyond, to the altar, and finally to JONES with a ferocious command.
JONES seems to sense the meaning of
this. It is he who must offer himself for sacrifice. He beats his
forehead abjectly to the ground, moaning hysterically.]
Mercy, Oh Lawd! Mercy! Mercy on dis po' sinner .
springs to the river bank. He stretches out his
arms and calls to some god within its depths. Then he starts backward
slowly, his arms remaining out. A huge head of a crocodile appears over
the bank and its eyes, glittering greenly, fasten upon JONES. He
stares into them fascinatedly. The WITCH-DOCTOR prances up to
him, touches him with his wand, motions with hideous command toward the
waiting monster. JONES squirms on his belly nearer and nearer,
Mercy, Lawd! Mercy! [The crocodile heaves more of his enormous
hulk onto the land. JONES squirms toward him. The WITCH-DOCTOR'S voice shrills out in furious exultation, the tom-tom
beats madly. JONES cries out in a fierce, exhausted spasm of
Lawd, save me! Lawd Jesus, heah my prayer!
answer to his prayer, comes the thought of the one bullet left him. He
snatches at his hip, shouting defiantly.]
De silver bullet! You don't git me yit!
[He fires at the green eyes in front of him. The head of the
crocodile sinks back behind the river bank, the WITCH-DOCTOR springs behind the sacred tree and disappears.
JONES lies with
his face to the ground, his arms outstretched, whimpering with fear as
the throb of the tom-tom fills the silence about him with a somber
pulsation, a baffled but revengeful power.]
Same as Scene Two, the dividing line of forest and
plain. The nearest tree trunks are dimly revealed but the forest behmd
them is still a mass of glooming shadows. The tom-tom seems on the very
spot, so loud and continuously vibrating are its beats. LEM enters from the left, followed by a small squad of his soldiers, and by
the Cockney trader, SMITHERS. LEM is a heavy-set, ape-faced old
savage of the extreme African type, dressed only in a loin cloth. A
revolver and cartridge belt are about his waist. His soldiers are in
different degrees of rag-concealed nakedness. All wear broad palm-leaf
hats. Each one carries a rifle. SMITHERS is the same as in Scene
Olte. One of the soldiers, evidently a tracker, is peering about keenly
on the ground. He grunts and points to the spot where JONES entered the forest.
SMITHERS come to look.
SMITHERS [After a glance, turns away in disgust]:
That's where 'e went in right enough. Much good it'll do yer. 'E's
miles orf by this an' safe to the Coast, damn 'is 'ide! I tole yer
yer'd lose 'im, didn't I?-wastin' the 'ole bloomin' night beatin' yer
bloody drum and castin' yer silly spells! Gawd blimey, wot a pack!
LEM [Gutturally]: We cotch him. You see. [H e makes a
motion to his soldiers who squat down on their haunches in a
SMITHERS [Exasperatedly]: Well, ain't yet goin' in an'
'unt 'im in the woods? What the 'ell's the good of waitin'?
LEM [Imperturbably-squatting down himself]: We cotch him.
SMITHERS [Turning away from him contemptuously]: Aw!
Garn! 'E's a better man than the lot o’ you put together. I 'ates the
sight o’ 'im but I'll say that for 'im. [A sound of snapping twigs
comes from the forest. The soldiers jump to their feet, cocking their
rifles alertly. LEM remains sitting with an imperturbable
expression, but listening intently. The sound from the woods is
repeated. LEM makes a quick signal with his hand. His followers
creep quickly but noiselessly into the forest. scattering so that each
enters at a different spot.]
SMITHERS [In the silence that follows-in a contemptuous
whisper]: You ain't thinkin' that would be 'im, I 'ope?
LEM [Calmly]: We cotch him. SMITHERS: Blarsted fat 'eads!
[Then after a second's thought-wonderingly.] Still an' all, it
might 'appen. If 'e lost 'is bloody way in these stinkin' woods 'e'd
likely turn in a circle without 'is knowin' it. They all does.
LEM [Peremptorily]: Sssh!
[The reports of several rifles
sound from the forest, followed a second later by savage, exultant
yells. The beating of the tom-tom abruptly ceases. LEM looks up
at the white man with a grin of satisfaction.] We cotch him. Him
SMITHERS [With a snarl]: 'Ow d'yer know it's 'im an'
'ow d'yer know 'e's dead?
LEM: My mens dey got 'um silver bullets. Dey kill him shore.
SMITHERS [Astonished]: They got silver bullets?
LEM: Lead bullet no kill him. He got ‘um strong charm. I cook um
money, make um silver bullet, make um strong charm, too.
SMITHERS [Light breaking upon him]: So that's wot you
was up to all night, wot? You was scared to put after 'im till you'd
moulded silver bullets, eh?
LEM [Simply stating a fact]: Yes. Him got strong charm. Lead
SMITHERS [Slapping his thigh and guffawing]: Haw-haw!
If yer don't beat all 'ell! [Then recovering himself-scornfully.]
I'll bet yer it ain't 'im they shot at all, yer bleedin' looney!
LEM [Calmly]: Dey come bring him now,
[The soldiers come out of the forest, carrying
JONES' limp body. There is a little reddish-purpIe hole under
his left breast. He is dead. They carry him to LEM, who examines
his body with great satisfaction. SMITHERS leans over his
shoulder-in a tone of frightened awe.] Well, they did for yer right
enough, Jonsey, me lad! Dead as a 'erring! [Mockingly.] Where's
yer 'igh an' mighty airs now, yer bloomin' Majesty? [Then with a
grin.] Silver bullets! Gawd blimey, but yer died in the 'eighth o’
style, any'ow! [LEM makes a motion to the soldiers to carry the body
out left. SMITHERS speaks to him sneeringly.]
SMITHERS: And I s'pose you think it's yer blet:din' charms
and yer silly beatin' the drum that made 'im run in a circle when 'e'd
lost 'imself, don't yer? [But LEM makes no reply, does not
seem to hear the question, walks out left after his men. SMITHERS looks after him with contemptuous scorn.]
Stupid as 'ogs, thl' lot
of' em! Blarsted niggers!