Strumpet VoluntarybyCaptain Blood©
A play by Terry Kroenung
SCENE: A garden of one of Louis XIV’s palaces, 1690’s. A dance is in progress
through the doors off left. Its music can be faintly heard.
SET: Double doors SL; marble benches DL and DR; gazebo with vines and flowers
UC; a Corinthian pillar topped with a Cupid on either side of it.
AURORE, late teens, very lovely and innocent-looking, bursts in through the SL doors. The music gets louder as the doors are opened. She wears a stunning dress and a wicked grin. Fanning herself furiously, she steps to the gazebo, snips a flower from it with scissors from her bodice, then goes to the UR pillar and hides.
LA MAUPIN enters a moment later through the same doors. She closes them quickly and leans against them, peering about the garden. She is in her mid-twenties. Dressed as a man, complete with wig and sword, her disguise should be believable to a naïve girl. She holds Aurore’s handkerchief.
She frowns, then smiles and moves to the gazebo stealthily. Leaping into it, she finds nothing. Aurore peeks around her pillar. La Maupin tiptoes toward the UR pillar. Aurore slips around it on the SL side and enters the gazebo unseen. La Maupin rushes at the UR pillar, again finds nothing. Aurore giggles, stifles it, gets out of sight in the gazebo’s foliage. La Maupin smiles at this, goes to the SL doors, opens one, slams it, then rushes to hide herself behind the UL pillar. Aurore laughs, rushes out from the gazebo to LC. La Maupin moves in behind her, wraps an arm around her waist, kisses her neck.
Once more the swan falls prey to the fox.
Ohhh, Monsieur…has the advantage of me.
I sincerely hope so. (spins her around for a long kiss)
What would the nuns at my school say if they could see me now?
They would probably say, “Hurry up and finish with him so we can have our turn!”
Aurore (playfully whacking her with the fan)
Sir, you are wicked!
You have no idea.
Aurore (steps away SR)
Oh, I think I do. I saw you dance with a dozen ladies in there, including the King’s Wednesday mistress, Madame Ehonte. Your hands were roaming like gypsies over the countryside.
Well, she has a lovely…countryside. Alas, gypsies are never welcome in new lands for long. (advances on her) They tend to steal away with precious treasure…boldly taken in the night.
Aurore (backing away DR)
What if the strongbox is well-guarded?
La Maupin (still advancing)
Locks, bars, dogs, walls…they “are no stop to me.”
Aurore (still backing DR)
“For stony limits cannot hold love out.”
So it has been said.
Aurore (backing into and sitting on DR bench)
It must be true. We are inside the lovely walls already. (indicates garden)
La Maupin (smirk)
Not quite yet. (sitting beside her) Perhaps later.
Aurore (closing her eyes, leaning her head back)
La Maupin (stroking her neck, trailing a finger down her throat)
My fair young swan. Such delicate beauty that has known no rough touch of hunter, nor terror of cage or pen.
Not true. The nuns---
La Maupin (touching her hair)
---Are not here. Sssh…let me preen your plumage, my trembling little cygnet.
Your touch enchants. Your voice enthralls. Do it again. Please.
Weave a spell with your voice again. Sing to me, sir, just like you sang to all of us in there only an hour ago. I can still feel your silken notes caressing my soul like the falling petals of a weeping flower.
You would hear that same song? The English one?
I would listen to it again and again…until the moon goes dark and the sun deserts the heavens.
Mayhap you would be surfeited before then.
Impossible. Does the bee sicken on the nectar it sucks from the blossom?
La Maupin (kissing her tenderly)
We may have an answer by the morning. (standing) I must accede to my lady’s gentle request.
(singing John Dowland’s “Come again: sweet love it now doth invite”)
Sweet love doth now invite,
Thy graces that refrain,
To do me such delight,
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.
That I may cease to mourn,
Through thy unkind disdain:
For now left and forlorn,
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die
In deadly pain and endless misery.
Draw forth thy wounding dart,
Thou canst not pierce her heart,
For I that to approve,
By sighs and tears more hot than are thy shafts,
Did tempt while she for triumph laughs.
(ends song standing behind Aurore)
Oh, I dare not laugh at you, monsieur.
La Maupin (stroking her neck)
Why not? Venus does, with every plunge of her sightless son’s shaft into a helpless male bosom.
You, helpless? (laughing)
Ah! You see?
Aurore (jumping up)
No! “I rather weep…at thy good heart’s oppression.”
Your convent school teaches Shakespeare well. But I would not be the cause of a single wretched tear blemishing that flawless face. Not even for love’s pity.
Aurore (moving toward DC)
My pity is not for your pangs of desire, sir.
Rather my sorrow is at your lack of worthy prey.
You misprize yourself, Lady Aurore.
I think not. I saw in there (indicates SL doors) how you moved through the hall…as Alexander surveying his dominions. Not a woman breathed your essence without falling under the effortless spell of Eros.
La Maupin (smiles)
Now you overprize me.
Do I? How many different ladies did you kiss tonight? How many different hands were held? How many strategically-dropped lace handkerchiefs did you return to their blushing and ever-so-grateful owners?
It would not be gallant to keep count.
And all without the slightest exertion on your part. Gliding from one conquest to the other with an aura of inevitability.
Please, you’ll turn my head.
That would be the greatest strain I have seen from you all evening. You swept through us like a sweet pestilence---no hope of cure or resistance. Are you even aware of it?
No more than you were of your effect on that gilded cage of peacocks, strutting and preening for your approval.
Aurore (DL now)
Now you mock me, sir.
La Maupin (crossing to her)
I swear I do not. They were tripping over their flowered pumps to attract your attention.
To whom can you be referring?
To that trio of young fops whose self-worth was being held captive by your ineffable radiance. They might have been lapdogs leashed on a bejeweled chain, no farther did they ever move from you.
Oh, they were merely showing courtesy to a lonely guest.
Then they were most discourteous to every other lady in the room.
Aurore (hiding behind her fan)
Every other lady was on your leash, monsieur.
La Maupin (lowering her fan with a finger)
Mongrels, all. I saw only one purebred.
Unsullied of pedigree. Unstained in demeanor.
Standing out from that yelping pack of bitches as does a serene swan amidst a flock of shrieking ravens. (moves behind her) My lovely Aurore, daughter of the dawn…
All those dances. All those handkerchiefs.
Ask not how many I returned. (caresses her with the handkerchief she brought in at the beginning) Ask how many I kept. (breathes in the handkerchief’s scent) Sweet as a sinner’s repentance.
(she kisses Aurore’s neck; one hand wraps around her waist; the other glides across her bosom)
Aurore (lost to rational thought; a sigh)
Sweet mother Mary…
(Aurore drops a hand behind and between them, obviously to grope La Maupin’s “nether regions”; she freezes and shrieks)
Sweet mother Mary! (jerks away, moves across the bench)
La Maupin (philosophical)
Ah, well…’twas bound to come out.
Come out? Taken out!
I beg your pardon?
Undercarriage? Yes, well…
You poor man…how did it happen?
La Maupin (realizing that she has not been discovered)
Oh…it is a tale hardly fit for your hearing. Not part of the nuns’ curriculum, I would venture to say.
Aurore (sitting on DL bench)
Please. If your sensibilities can withstand it.
La Maupin (warming to the story she is hastily inventing)
I am not a nobleman. My parents were poor farmers. As their only son, I was their treasure. And the hope of their old age, of course. My mother spoiled me terribly. No request of mine was too extreme to be granted. I fear I abused her sweetness terribly. It shames me now to think on it. My father was a simple solid man. No one ever worked harder to give his little family a good life.
We were unpretentious, God-fearing people. Other than the unremitting backbreaking toil which filled our days---and many of our nights as well---all we had was our faith. Every Sunday we were on our knees in the parish church, hearing Mass from old Father Girarde. And every Sunday, too, I would sing for the worshippers. I can well recall, even as young as seven or eight, singing the praises of God in that tiny village church.
With a voice given to you by that same God.
By God? No, by Satan! For it could only have been the machinations of the Lord of the Infernal Regions that stole me from my sainted parents’ side one black night in my eleventh year.
To this day I do not know who saw me in that little church, which of my trusted fellow townsmen heard me sing and devised a devilish plan to profit from my misery. But one dark December night saw a foul-smelling sack thrown over my head as I came out of the privy. I could scarcely breathe. Next I knew I was being hurled onto the bed of a wagon and trussed up like a pig bound for slaughter. Little did I know how apt that description was!
After hours of suffering I was tossed into an unlit room, still tied fast. For what seemed like days I lay there in terror, crying for someone---anyone---to come to my aid. What must my parents have been thinking, when I seemed to disappear from the face of the earth? I prayed to the God I had so often sung to, to deliver me from this evil. When at last the door opened, and food and water were given me, I believed my pitiful pleas had finally been heard. Such was my naivete.
A harsh voice whispered in my ear, “You are blessed with a mighty instrument, young master. Rare it is that heaven bestows such a gift. And we are here to see that it remains with you always.” With that my breeches were rudely pulled down. I struggled with desperate strength but I was held fast by four men with sinews of iron. Something cold and wet was poured on my…my nether regions. I smelled brandy. An instant later I felt an agony sharp and shrill that few in this blessed world are cursed to endure. How I sang then! My throat sent a note to Heaven such as it had never produced before. But all I heard in reply, before I mercifully fainted, was a holy echo.
I awoke who knows how many days later…fevered, delirious. A strange woman nursed me. She, at least, was kind. It was she who, gently as she could, broke the news to me that my budding manhood had been cruelly cut from me, in order that my sweet voice would always endure. It was she who held me as I sobbed for what had been lost and could never be regained. It was she who cured me of my infection and allowed me to live.
When I was able to leave my bed she turned me over to a pair of well-dressed men who taught me to sing…or suffer. I was beaten when I resisted, I was beaten when I missed a note, was beaten when I cried from being beaten. But I was lodged like a lord, clothed like a prince, and fed like a king. Yet always I remained a captive songbird, despite the gaudy ornaments on the cage.
I soon discovered that my jailers were opera impresarios, and I was their ticket to further fortune. After several attempted escapes they introduced me to Guido, a deaf-mute Italian with a sharp knife and even sharper nose for my childish plans. It was made clear to me that there were even more valuable assets remaining to be severed from my young body, should I persist on seeking my freedom. When I manfully declared that I cared nothing for my useless life, that God would receive me with open arms, they sneered that I surely cared for the life of my mother, which would be brutally snuffed out if I should ever run away again.
I was beaten. If they could find me to kidnap me, they could certainly find my mother to harm her. I acquiesced to their every demand, resigned to be their canary. Once I proved that I was theirs, they became the soul of generosity. As long as I sang, my every whim was indulged. I had the best tutors, tailors, and wigmakers in Paris. I learned to command every skill a gentleman was expected to master: riding, shooting, dancing, fencing. My masters introduced me to great courtiers, to greats of the Opera, to great men and women in all walks of life. Though not noble, I quickly mastered the art of seeming to be so…which is more than half the battle.
So you see before you a man, at least in every way but one, who has achieved—through untold suffering-- all that any man could desire…save the love of a pure woman. The love of a virtuous woman who cares more for my soul than the contents of my breeches.
(sits beside Aurore) Are you she, Lady Aurore? Are you the Heloise who will save this Abelard?
Aurore (in tears)
(Applause from DR and DL, offstage. From each corner a ridiculously well-dressed young man enters, looking very similar to La Maupin, actually. The DL gentleman is Chevalier Temeraire and the DR gentleman is the Vicomte du Vilepender. Each is armed)
Vilepender (moving to DRC)
Bravo! Your finest performance! I was enchanted! (to Temeraire) Weren’t you enchanted, Jaques?
Temeraire (stopping behind Aurore)
I’m of a mind to write a review for one of those broadsheets one sees posted about town. “Last night at the sumptuous ball given by the Duc du Orleans, attended by the Sun King himself, a stirring—one might almost say moving performance—was given by a performer whose previous work was as nothing compared to what this noble audience enjoyed.” (to La Maupin) By the way, was there the slightest germ of truth in that heart-rending speech you just gave to this beautiful but admittedly naïve young faun?
Well…I did have a mother.
Doing penance in hell for the deed, I daresay.
La Maupin (eyeing him cooly)
You, Chevalier, will be the first tonight to go there…to see if you are correct.
‘Twill take more than bitch singer to accomplish that.
My apologies for Temeraire’s manners. He’s always forgetful of courtly niceties when he is spurned; however, he does have a point.
La Maupin (fingering her sword hilt)
So do I. Where would you like to feel it, Vicomte? Your belly or your throat?
Such fire! Such passion in the face of adversity. I do believe you almost deserve the plaudits you gain at the Opera.
Gentlemen, can we not go back inside? I am certain I owe dances to you both.
You owe us a good deal more than that. And you’ll pay up. (touches her chin) Oh, how you’ll pay.
La Maupin (her sword is instantly out and at his breast)
She owes you nothing. But I do.
Vilepender (waving Temeraire back)
Time enough for that later, Jacques. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
At last we are in agreement on something, Vilepender.
My lords, please…this gentleman has done you no harm.
I am afraid, Lady Aurore, that you have been the victim of a cruel deception. That is why we are here. So that the truth may breathe freely.
That won’t happen until you and your kind let go of its throat. Aurore, go. Quickly.
I want to stay here with you and---
(Aurore bolts for the door. Temeraire tries to stop her, but is cut off by La Maupin. Aurore flings open a door, and runs into another young gentleman, the Chevalier de Chatrer. He holds her firmly and brings her back into the garden, stopping to close the door. He remains between it and La Maupin. He, too, is armed)
It pays to take precautions. Now that my good friend Chatrer is arrived, our little party can begin. Where was I? Ah! Yes, my lady, you have been deceived. This is no gentleman.
Aurore (shrugging free of Chatrer, who releases her but guards her)
It is true he is of humble birth, he has admitted as much to me; however, his nobility of manner has had no peer in my experience.
(All three young men are laughing heartily at this)
Those nuns really should let you out more often, my dear. You need more experience.
We aren’t talking about his ‘manner’.
We’re talking about his empty breeches.
I see no need to taunt the poor man just because he was cruelly used.
Lost them in the war, did he?
The only poor man who has been cruelly used here this evening has been myself…and my two handsome friends, of course.
Because we’re the only poor men here.
Because we’re the only men here at all!
I don’t under---
Vilepender (to La Maupin)
For God’s sake, tell her, will you? I’ll wager she’d have found out later tonight anyway if we hadn’t come along.
Aurore (looking at La Maupin)
Not quite. (removes her man’s wig to reveal her red-blonde hair) My name is Julie D’Aubigny. Better known at the Opera as La Maupin. I apologize for selling you fraudulent merchandise. (takes Aurore’s hand, places it on her bosom) But I declare that my heart is true, my lady. (kisses her tenderly; then she whispers something to her that neither the men nor audience can here) You understand me?
(Aurore nods. She appears stunned and frightened. She looks around the garden as if looking for a rock to hide under)
All this, then, is for your wounded male pride? Because she preferred me to you louts?
Louts? That’s a gentlemanly word.
Such nobility of manner.
Like a beautiful aria.
Or a hymn.
A would-be ‘him’, anyway.
Or a ‘strumpet voluntary’!
Oh, that’s a good one!
I am sorry, my lords. I meant to say “you pricks”.
I’ll say this for you, Mademoiselle La Maupin…I shall miss your wit.
Why? Am I going somewhere?
Vilepender (drawing his sword)
Oh, I rather think so.
Chatrer (drawing his sword)
The bottom of the Seine, most likely.
Temeraire (drawing his sword)
Or maybe just a cesspool someplace.
But I can promise you that we’ll take up a collection to have your friends at the Opera sing a hymn for you. A last goodbye for one of their own.
Save your money for your own funerals. Worry not, I’ll sing there for free. Now, Aurore!