(Set in England, during the early 1800’s. In a castle outside of a small hamlet, Katerine sits alone at her vanity, CENTRE BACK, brushing her hair. There is a fireplace and a door STAGE RIGHT, a bed STAGE LEFT. A small silver dagger lays on the vanity.)
KATERINE: Oh Hinton, the fool. James will kill him as soon as he finds out. And he says he loves me. Pity, I did not go to him for love. Why did I go? (Sighs) I do not want to think of the answer. God forgive me, I am my father’s daughter.
(KATERINE paces her room.)
James loathes me. I am weak, and he . . . he is so distant. He won’t speak with me. And the way he threatens. How could I do but what I did?
(KATERINE sits on her bed, looks at the clock on the mantle.)
He will be here soon. But the clock’s hands are slow. I asked him to come . . . begged him. Should a wife have to persuade her husband so? But . . . he is not my husband. He is a beast. A monster with a monstrous rage. Have I made the right decision?
(KATERINE pauses, listening)
Surely those are his steps coming down the stairs? Can I tell him? Do I have the courage?
(JAMES knocks on the door, Katherine calls for him to enter. She immediately stands and curtsies.)
JAMES: Katerine, pleasant evening.
KATERINE: Very pleasant.
JAMES: You may sit.
(KATERINE sits on the bed)
You are looking well.
JAMES: A compliment I cannot return.
KATERINE: I haven’t been sleeping.
JAMES: I cannot fathom why.
KATERINE: The nightmares . . . I am always alone . . .
JAMES: Is that why you’ve asked me here? Because you’re afraid of the dark?
KATERINE: It is not.
JAMES: Please, (sighs) let’s get this over with . . . I’ve not much time.
KATERINE: I’ve asked you here in order to-
JAMES: Unless . . .
JAMES: Unless my father has told you?
KATERINE: Told me?
KATERINE: Your father has not spoken with me.
JAMES: So you do not know?
KATERINE: Know what?
JAMES: (Overly dramatic) I have kept it for so long . . .
JAMES: A secret Katerine, I couldn’t tell you.
KATERINE: Why not?
JAMES: I have my reasons.
KATERINE: Are those secret also?
JAMES: It was my Father’s idea. He said you were delicate, that it would upset you. That you would not bear a son if you knew. It was for your own benefit.
JAMES: I . . . I am ill. The doctor . . . He says I am not to live very much longer. Already, I cough and tremble.
JAMES: (coughs) Why have you brought me here? I tire quickly.
KATERINE: James . . . there is something I must-
JAMES: He says it will get worse. I do not find myself with much time, do you understand? There is something we must address.
KATERINE: You must listen . . .
JAMES: I desire a son.
KATERINE: A son? This is the first I have heard of it!
JAMES: How I’ve dreamed . . .
KATERINE: You have not slept in this room for months.
JAMES: That is no matter.
(JAMES tries to kiss KATERINE, but she turns away)
The line must continue. It’s in the interest of my family’s name.
KATERINE: And what of me? Raise a son without a father?
JAMES: It has been done.
KATERINE: I do not want this.
JAMES: Is it your place to refuse your husband?
KATERINE: Another night . . . please. Any night but this one.
JAMES: Perhaps another night is best. There are preparations to make.
KATERINE: The funeral.
JAMES: The Nursery.
JAMES: In the left wing, above the stables. Young James will do fine there.
JAMES: I’ve told father-
KATERINE: I’ll ask him about a casket.
JAMES: He has strict instructions-
KATERINE: Then I’ll let him take care of it.
(JAMES begins to pace)
JAMES: When I pass, my fortune will go to you.
JAMES: Until our son is grown. Then all will go to him. My father has strict instructions on how the money is to be used until then.
JAMES: You are not to take a husband.
KATERINE: Why . . . Why would I take another . . . ?
JAMES: You worry about raising a son alone?
KATERINE: Yes . . .
JAMES: Word will get out.
KATERINE: Word? Of what?
JAMES: It’s a lot of money, Katerine. There will be others.
JAMES: Yes, others. Other men. A widow with a fortune? Many will try to take advantage. I’ve left my father strict instructions.
KATERINE: Who would take advantage?
JAMES: Men are greedy. They will only pretend to love you.
KATERINE: You think I desire another husband?
JAMES: (coughs) You are a woman.
KATERINE: And you believe I could not find another to love me?
JAMES: Look at you. Your father begged me.
KATERINE: Leave him out of this.
JAMES: He was desperate to be rid of you.
KATERINE: He raised me alone.
JAMES: Because your heathen mother-
KATERINE: Died in childbirth.
JAMES: Enough. I have been suffering . . .
KATERINE: You have been suffering?
JAMES: . . . always wondering which moment will be my last . . .
KATERINE: I have also wondered that.
JAMES: I have tried to make you happy. (Pause) But nothing has worked. You are spoiled. Perhaps it is you who have made me miserable these weeks.
KATERINE: You’ve been absent for days.
JAMES: I bought you the horse you refuse to ride, the piano you refuse to play.
KATERINE: You know I hate to ride. And that dreadful piano . . .
JAMES: It is one of a kind!
KATERINE: You mock me whenever I play.
JAMES: I try to teach you. It is you who will not learn.
KATERINE: Teach? You mock me as you mock me now! I could very well find a husband to love me! Did I not find you?
JAMES: Is your memory so short?
KATERINE: My father did not beg-
JAMES: Why don’t you ask him?
(Katerine is paralyzed by the remark)
JAMES: Silly me to forget he is dead. Yes Katerine, he begged me to take you before killing himself. The coward.
KATERINE: Enough! After my mother . . .
JAMES: He was afraid to live!
KATERINE: How can you be so cruel?
JAMES: Your tone is inappropriate for a dying man.
I have had enough. Why have you asked me here, Katerine? If you did not know I was dying, what reason have you to need my presence?
KATERINE: I . . . I’ve been . . .
JAMES: Spit it out!
KATERINE: I’ve been unfaithful.
KATERINE: You think me incapable of finding another lover? Well I have.
JAMES: What? Lunatic! (Coughs) What do you mean by this?
KATERINE: Right under your nose.
JAMES: You have not left the castle in months. How . . . ?
KATERINE: I did not have to look far.
JAMES: Unless . . .
JAMES: Unless he is in the castle.
KATERINE: He is.
JAMES: Surely, you did not fraternize with a servant?
KATERINE: I have been so miserable, and still you think so little of me?
JAMES: Miserable? Surely you jest. Who then?
KATERINE: Have you forgotten about him? Has your illness also made you blind?
KATERINE: Your father’s latest hire. The painter.
KATERINE: The very one.
JAMES: But . . . he is grotesque!
KATERINE: To those who are blind!
JAMES: He was forbidden to see you!
KATERINE: But was I forbidden to see him?
JAMES: You . . .
KATERINE: Yes. I went to him.
JAMES: Your face . . . in his paintings. I should have known. . .
KATERINE: You say my father begged? How could his ugliest daughter inspire so great an artist?
JAMES: When? When did this happen?
KATERINE: What does it matter?
JAMES: Tell me!
(KATERINE is silent.)
(With these words, JAMES slaps KATERINE.)
KATERINE: Not two nights ago.
JAMES: (quietly) And what will you say when you’ve the guilt of his death on your conscience? When you are all alone, after I am gone? Let us hope that you take after your father.
KATERINE: It was my choice.
JAMES: (coughs) A choice you will pay dearly for. You know I loathe the unfaithful.
KATERINE: You once promised to kill me should I prove as such.
JAMES: Oh, no. I will not kill you Katerine.
KATERINE: You’ve promised! You may die any moment, why wait?
JAMES: No . . . A crime such as this? Death is not the answer. You will bear me a son. Only then will I show you the mercy of death.
KATERINE: I have committed no sin.
JAMES: Only a heathen would think so. I will have you screaming from the dungeons, music to my ears when I pass into the next life. I will leave you there, forget you. You will be lost in the dark, and not even the slaves will remember your name. You will sleep in the dirt. You will get fleas, like an animal. You will see no one. And eventually, if you’re lucky, you’ll die.
And your new husband? Consider him no more. A man will be dead before the hour is out. Enjoy your last night in a comfortable bed, Katerine.
(James turns to leave)
KATERINE: A man . . .
JAMES: Hinton. Hinton will die.
KATERINE: A man will die . . .
JAMES: And not comfortably.
KATERINE: . . . before the hour . . .
(James turns and faces Katerine)
KATERINE: I’ve made no mistake.
JAMES: Then you’ve chosen your fate.
KATERINE: Your father . . .
JAMES: What of him?
KATERINE: You say you’ve told him of my inheritance?
JAMES: Yes, an inheritance which you no longer have claim to.
KATERINE: You’re right.
KATERINE: I am a fool.
(KATERINE moves toward her vanity)
JAMES: You are ready to apologize? Perhaps I will go easier on you.
JAMES: I’ll let you keep your hair.
JAMES: A cell with a window.
(KATERINE reaches for the silver dagger.)
Go on. Say it.
(KATERINE, dagger in hand, walks back to JAMES)
KATERINE: I’ve been such a fool . . .
JAMES: You are a fool Katerine. You have always been. Even when you lived in your father’s castle, even while he drank himself dry, you were a fool.
KATERINE: . . . for not doing this sooner.
(KATERINE lunges to stab JAMES, but he manages to roll out of the way.)
(KATERINE lunges again, and this time James intercepts, grabbing hold of her wrist. He forces her down onto the bed, standing over her, pointing the dagger toward her own heart. She is struggling to keep him at bay)
JAMES: (panting) Is this why you called me here? To kill me?
KATERINE: No . . . I . . .
JAMES: So it was not to kill me? Why? If you suffer so? Why not kill yourself? Why not take your own life? It is worth far less than mine!
KATERINE: It’s the only way.
(With her last words, she stops resisting and allows JAMES to pierce her heart with the dagger. He does not move. When she has died, he moves to the edge of the bed, looking at the knife in his hand)
There is no other solution to this riddle. She was lying, she knew all along of my illness, and of her inheritance. She had called me here to kill me. Ha! Katerine? Can you hear me?
(JAMES grabs a hold of Katerine’s limp shoulders and begins to shake them, harder with each shout, as if crazed.)
You’ve failed. You have failed. You’re nothing but a fool!